Consider this example:

I will pick you up at 11 in the morning.

A simple sentence with a transitive phrasal verb 'pick up'.

Now my question is: Can we say

I will pick up you at 11 in the morning?

And also can we switch the positions of the two adverbs (prepositional phrases)? For instance:

I will pick you up in the morning at 11.

Now I do believe it's correct, but semantically speaking, does the meaning slightly change or remain the same? Is the meaning the same regardless of whether or not we change the positions of given phrases?

  • 2
    I’m voting to close this question because it is about English syntax and semantics. It belong on English Language & Usage, not here.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 31 at 23:42
  • This is a linguistic question, not a style / normative question.
    – user6726
    Jan 31 at 23:44

2 Answers 2


No. As a general rule, the second part of a phrasal verb has to come after a pronominal object if there is one. "Pick up you" sounds distinctly wrong to me.

This is one of the standard tests to check if something is a phrasal verb in English. It also means that the distinction between "turn on you" (preposition, "betray") and "turn you on" (phrasal verb, "activate") is unambiguous—with pronouns, at least. With nouns, "turn on your friend" is acceptable for both verbs. Likewise, "pick up your friend" is fine.

Moving adverbial elements around is generally acceptable, but "at 11 in the morning" is normally parsed as:

tree showing "eleven in the morning" as a single element

In other words, "eleven in the morning" is a single phrase meaning 11 am, rather than two separate phrases "at eleven" and "in the morning". If you reverse the order, they have to be interpreted as separate phrases instead. So this is a change in the semantics, albeit a minor one.

  • I'd say that "eleven in the morning" is a noun phrase with the noun "eleven" as head and the PP "in the morning" as post-head modifier. "The morning" is an NP functioning as object of "in".
    – BillJ
    Feb 1 at 8:43
  • I would say they're separate: you have an ambiguous time expression followed by a modifier that makes it more specific. "I will pick you up in the morning, at 11 (and not at 10)" -- the time is a more specific additional modifier in this case. In "at 11 in the morning" the in the morning is the specifier, as opposed to in the evening. Feb 1 at 10:15
  • @OliverMason The PP "in the morning" modifies the PP "at 11".
    – BillJ
    Feb 4 at 9:12

It is sometimes held that you can't say "*I'll pick up you at 11 in the morning", which is distinct from the fact that you can say "I'll pick up Bob at 11 in the morning". A proffered grammatical analysis is (roughly) that particle shift (or whatever you call that process) is obligatory when before a pronoun but optional otherwise. The supposedly bad sentence violates that rule, therefore it is ungrammatical.

But actually, the problem is lack of contextual control – it's not about pronouns and the formulation of the rule. Consider "I'll pick up you at 11 in the morning, her and 11:30, and him at 11:45". There's no problem with suspending particle shift when the pronoun is contrastively focused and stressed.

The problem is not syntactic, it's prosodic. Unstressed object pronouns want to be next to the verb.

  • 1
    Hmm. To me (AmEng speaker) that sentence sounds distinctly strange, and I'm pretty sure I would never produce it. So if my introspection is correct, there are at least some speakers for whom the condition is syntactic rather than prosodic.
    – TKR
    Feb 1 at 5:58
  • 1
    I would say "I'll pick you up at 11, her at 11:30, and him at 11:45" (BrEng) Feb 1 at 14:18

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