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what's the difference between "Put the phone down" and "Put down the phone"? Is it the same? As for me the first one means literally to put the phone (the thing) down and the last one is to end the conversation, am I right?

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    Although "put the phone down" and "put down the phone" are (at least mostly) equivalent, do note that you can say "put it down", but not "*put down it". – psmears Mar 19 at 16:21
  • @psmears Correct! Because "it" is a pronoun, and "the phone" is a noun phrase. – CJ Dennis Mar 20 at 2:19
  • @CJDennis: Yes, and specifically because "put down" is a separable phrasal verb. – psmears Mar 20 at 10:11
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They both mean the same thing. You can say "Put down the [something]" or "Put the [something] down". Using old fashioned, wired, phones, you terminate a call by replacing the receiver in its cradle ("putting it down"). On a modern mobile or cordless phone, you have to to press a button or touch a place on the screen. For either of these actions, people can say they "put down", or even "hang up" the phone.

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    It's an edge case, but just to mention that one should be careful if the [something] is an animal - depending on contract of course, saying "Please put the dog down" can have very different meanings :P – BruceWayne Mar 19 at 16:49
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    @BruceWayne I don't see how that's relevant. – David Richerby Mar 19 at 16:54
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    Brucewayne - In the 1980s, the British government introduced a new tax, the "Poll tax". Each household had to complete a form listing all residents. Some people were confused about who should be included. The Daily Mail newspaper caused unintended amusement with an article headed "What to do about Granny? Put her down.". – Michael Harvey Mar 19 at 17:56
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    @MichaelHarvey Given the Mail's reputation, I doubt the pun was an accident. – chrylis -on strike- Mar 19 at 19:30
  • British headline writers, from the Sun to the Telegraph, if they have to mention a bishop, take every opportunity to use the word 'bash' in the same breath. – Michael Harvey Mar 19 at 19:44
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The actual meaning is the same, but in normal conversation I would be more likely to say "put the phone down", but if I lost patience with you because you are not listening this would turn to "Put Down The Phone".

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    yes in my head I hear "put down the phone" in a very stern voice with lots of !!! – WendyG Mar 19 at 13:22
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I don't think there's any difference between the two phrases. Perhaps some people think they're different but, if you want to communicate clearly, you shouldn't rely on people picking up such subtle differences.

  • "down" isn't a preposition, so "put the phone down" doesn't violate that rule. – Barmar Mar 19 at 18:43
  • @Barmar Fair point. It is a preposition in some situations ("He fell down the well") but it's considered adverbial in "put down". I'll delete that part of my answer. (Though I could double down (er, adverb again?) and claim that people might mistakenly criticize ending a sentence with a preposition, citing myself as evidence. ;-) ) – David Richerby Mar 19 at 18:53
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    Fair enough. They mistakenly think it's X, and also mistakenly think you shouldn't X. – Barmar Mar 19 at 19:01
  • @Barmar Exactly! These strawmen are wrong! – David Richerby Mar 19 at 19:13
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They mean the same thing, but there can be differences of emphasis. In general, the phrase with more significance often comes back, so "Put the phone down" emphasizes draws attention to the phone, while "Put down the phone" emphasizes the action of putting it down.

For instance, if someone is holding two things, you might say "Put the phone down" to make it clear that you're just talking about putting that one thing down.

However, this is a very slight nuance, and when speaking you can use tone of voice to override it. "Put the phone down" emphasizes "down" by saying it more forcefully.

  • "Put down the phone" emphasises "down" equally forcefully. – CJ Dennis Mar 20 at 2:15
  • @CJDennis I was just trying to show an exmple where the tone results in the opposite emphasis from the order. Of course, you can also use tone to reinforce the emphasis. – Barmar Mar 20 at 5:03
0

The difference between the two sentence variations amounts to a principle of grammatical best practice that urges a speaker never to split a verb and its auxiliary preposition unnecessarily.

  • "Put down the knife!" not "Put the knife down!"
  • "The student looked up the definition" not "The student looked the definition up."

However, recognizing when not to split up a prepositional phrase requires a certain fluency in English rather than a hard-and-fast rule.

  • "Could you please switch it off?" not "Could you please switch off it?"
  • "Grammatical best practice" = prescriptivism. As a fluent native speaker, I can say that all your examples are correct and acceptable except for "Could you please switch off it?" as you have already noted. The reason for the last is that "it" is a pronoun, whereas your other examples use nouns as the direct object. It's a very common form in English: "[verb] [preposition] [noun phrase]", "[verb] [noun phrase] [preposition]", or "[verb] [pronoun] [preposition]", but not "[verb] [preposition] [pronoun]". – CJ Dennis Mar 20 at 2:14
  • As pointed out in a comment on a different answer, "down" is not a preposition here; it's an adverb. What I said above applies to adverbs as well as prepositions. – CJ Dennis Mar 20 at 2:21
  • About the last example, which apparently breaks the rule, being not a native English speaker indeed, I (actually not really so) humbly propose an interpretation: that when an adverb looks like a preposition, it is better postponed, than interposed, exactly in order to avoid the possible misunderstanding. Could that be an explanation? – lurix66 Mar 20 at 8:28
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Literally, both the sentences mean the same. But metaphorically (as an idiom), yes, your interpretation is correct.

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    The original poster's second interpretation can be loosened to "suspend the conversation". For example, "Uh-oh. [Something urgent came up.] Hang on a second while I put down the phone and deal with this." – Jasper Mar 19 at 15:21

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