The Cambridge dictionary has two separate entries for "put down someone" and "put someone down", listing different meanings:

For "put down someone":

to make someone feel foolish and unimportant:

  • They never put down other companies in their commercials.
  • Did you have to put me down in front of everybody?

For "put someone down":

to record someone in a particular way:

  • Put down my sister as agreeing with the Democrats.
  • Lauren accidentally put me down for five boxes of cookies, but I only wanted one.

I find this confusing. As far as I know, phrasal verbs can be used in both ways with the same meaning (e.g. "Turn the light off" and "Turn off the light"). If the object is a pronoun it must come first (so you say "Turn it off", but not "Turn off it"), but there should be no other differences.
Here, instead, the fact that there are two separate entries with different definitions should imply that the order of "someone" and "down" matters. On the other hand, if this is true then the example "Put down my sister as agreeing with the Democrats" is wrong: it should be "Put my sister down as agreeing with the Democrats". This, and the fact that other dictionaries (WordReference, Oxford Learner's Dictionaries) don't distinguish between the two forms makes me think it's an oversight on Cambridge Dictionary's part, and they should merge the two entries into one. But I prefer to ask.

So, is there a difference between these two expressions? Does the order of "someone" and "down" matter?

  • I'm not certain, but perhaps they derived your first linked definition as a set phrase from the noun "put-down/putdown" (also Cambridge). EDIT: Never mind, I see that their example sentences don't follow a fixed order.
    – Wehage
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 23:33

1 Answer 1


The only difference is the placement of the object

  • put down someone (simple SVO)

  • put someone down (emphasize the object, 'someone')

Another example:

  • beat up Steve (simple SVO)

  • beat Steve up (emphasize the object, 'Steve')

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