For example:

"I looked up the word."

Some people believe "up" is a particle but others believe that it's a preposition because it's followed by "the word".

I'm writing a document about prepositions(among other things) but I've been stuck on phrasal verbs for WEEKS.

  • Phrasal verb: He looked up the word skirt. Preposition: He looked up her skirt. The phrasal verb allows He looked the word skirt up, but you can't do that with the "preposition" version. Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:24
  • I think I understand. Using your logic, that means that the word "after" in "Look after your brother" is a preposition. Meanwhile, the word "down" in "He turned down my offer" is a particle. Am I correct?
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:34
  • I'm afraid not. From Longman dictionary: look after somebody/something - phrasal verb, especially British English. I'm quite sure my two examples above are phrasal verb and preposition respectively, but to look after is definitely a phrasal verb meaning "tend, nurse", whereas the synonymous to care for looks to me like just a verb and a preposition. I don't really do "naming of the parts [of speech]" though. Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:45
  • Ugh, phrasal verbs are so... bothersome. No wonder my English teachers never mentioned them.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 18:05
  • Here's one to really do your head in then! I suggest you look up "phrasal verbs" in Wikipedia. Let me know if you've still got a problem, and I'll look after you. But I'll decide later whether I'm offering to look in Wikipedia to see if I can understand what they say any better than you can, or if I'm offering to resolve all your problems in this area, with or without Wikipedia's help! Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 18:11

2 Answers 2


Phrasal particles in particular can go at the end of sentences.

I looked up the word.

I looked the word up.

But you can't do this gracefully with a "real" preposition, like this:

I climbed up the ladder.

I climbed the ladder up. (fails)

  • 1
    1: Jack looked first. Then Jill looked after him, but she couldn't find it either. 2: Jack fell down and broke his crown. Then Jill looked after him. One of those is a phrasal verb and the other isn't, but in neither case does it seem possible to move the preposition to the end. Any ideas? Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:57

This one is easy if you are familiar with German separable verbs.

Look it up

The verb here is “Look up,” a transitive, phrasal verb because you can insert the object between the two pieces of the verb and should do so if the object is a preposition.

Look up it

The verb here is “look,” an intransitive, non-phrasal verb, which does not have an object, but is modified by an adverbial prepositional phrase.

If an object can follow the verb and precede the preposition, it is a phrasal verb.

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