Phrasal verbs vs. prepositional verbs: position of the object

How we form phrasal and prepositional verbs

Structure of phrasal verbs
A phrasal verb can be made up of:
a verb + adverb throw away
a verb + adverb + preposition put up with
Structure of prepositional verbs
A prepositional verb is made up of:
a verb + preposition look after, look at, wait for, think about, talk about, complain about

Position of the object of a phrasal verb

With a phrasal verb (verb + adverb), the position of the object (a noun) is flexible, i.e. it can sit either between the verb and the adverb or after the adverb:

  • She took her coat off.
    (The object her coat is between the verb and the adverb.)
  • or

  • She took off her coat.
    (The object her coat is after the adverb.)

Be careful

When the object is a pronoun (him, her, us, them, etc.), it must sit between the verb and the adverb:

  • She took it off.

    took off it

Position of the object of a prepositional verb

With prepositional verbs (verb + preposition), the position of the object—regardless of whether it’s a noun or pronoun—is not flexible. The object must sit after the preposition:

  • We looked after the children.

    looked the children after
  • We looked after them.
    looked them after


Phrasal verbs: the object can sit before or after the particle (but not when the object is a pronoun).

Prepositional verbs: the object always comes directly after the preposition.

See also:

Vocabulary section: Phrasal verbs
Vocabulary section: Phrasal verbs with ‘put’
Vocabulary section: Phrasal verbs with ‘come’