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. – FumbleFingers Nov 6 '20 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 Nov 6 '20 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. – FumbleFingers Nov 6 '20 at 17:45
  • Ugh, phrasal verbs are so... bothersome. No wonder my English teachers never mentioned them. – Joshua Nov 6 '20 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! – FumbleFingers Nov 6 '20 at 18:11

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? – FumbleFingers Nov 6 '20 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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