Let's see these two-word verbs first -

Wake up,
Kick off,
Pull out, and many more...

Now, I'm adding an object there...

Wake me up after an hour.
I'll kick him out.
You see a thread there? Pull it out.

A twist-

The above-mentioned examples sound okay (at least to me!) as the objects are just one word (me, you and it in these cases) but then when the object is descriptive, splitting of those two-words verbs appears weird. Check these now -

Go in the hall, and wake the person wearing shorts and a red tee up.
I'll kick that arrogant and annoying dull employee out.
Do you see many threads there? Pull the white, shining, powder coated warm wire out.

The question -

When the object is descriptive, should we keep those two-word verbs together? Say...

Go in the hall, and wake up the person wearing shorts and red tee.

And so on for the rest of examples?

If yes, is the sentence 'I'll kick him out' incorrect as it puts the object (him) between the two words of verb (kick & out) that otherwise come altogether (kick out)? But then again, I'll kick out him does not sound as good as I'll kick him out.

  • @godel9 Good link but still, it does not typically answer my question. When the object is descriptive the way I described. Given link gives good information but then object is not as descriptive as I mentioned it here. Anyway, your answer for this question please.
    – Maulik V
    Jan 10, 2014 at 6:03
  • 1
    I followed one of the links in godel9's Q and it's quite good. However, since I've got a big part of my English sense by listening, placing the object in-between or after the two parts seems to me to be judged by the number of syllables. The fewer, the more likely of the in-between choice. (This helps explain why it's strongly preferred to put pronouns in-between.) The more syllables, the more likely of the after choice. (But it doesn't seem wrong to put a long string of words in-between too. Disclaimer: It's just my speculation. Jan 10, 2014 at 8:08
  • 3
    @DamkerngT. "Kicked out him" is unacceptable because him (like other personal pronouns in that position) is unstressed, which for phonological reasons is not permitted. If you exceptionally stress him, though, it's okay.
    – user230
    Jan 10, 2014 at 8:26
  • 1
    And, stress aside, the further the second part gets from the object, the harder it is to understand that the parts belong together. It would be interesting to see if there are hard and fast grammar rules concerning this. Hopefully someone has some links!
    – nxx
    Jan 10, 2014 at 11:55

1 Answer 1


What governs placement of the particle is not the character of the object NP, but its weight—how long it is and how much stress it receives.

In phrasal verbs of this sort both the verbform and its associated particle must receive the same stress; this helps establish them as a single semantic unit. If the object of the verb is very ‘light’—one or two syllables, without prosodic stress—the object is placed between the verbform and the particle:

I woke him up.
I woke the man up.

If the object is slightly heavier—three or four syllables, with maybe one prosodic stress—the object may come either before or after the particle:

I woke some of them up. OR I woke up some of them.

But if the object gets any heavier than that it has to be placed after the particle.

I woke up the Captain of the King’s Guard. BUT NOT I woke the Captain of the King’s Guard up.

The important thing is to keep the verbform and the particle close enough together for the stress pattern to show that they are associated.

marks an utterance as unacceptable.

  • Thanks @StoneyB. It's clear, to-the-point and the answer. I shall still wait for others to comment though.
    – Maulik V
    Jan 10, 2014 at 11:41
  • There's not really much need to add comments - but I will say I think the concept of "weight" is really useful here. Assuming he was familiar enough with the name that he could rattle it off quickly with no particular stress, I suppose it wouldn't be unreasonable for her father to say to his other children "Be quiet, or you'll wake Aldaberontophoscophornia up!" Finally, I'll just add that I think this answer is even better than the equivalent answer on ELU Jan 10, 2014 at 18:10

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