I was told that the first sentence is usual but the second one would be hardly said.

  1. He got his memory back thanks to the album.
  2. He got back his memory thanks to the album.

And I think both are OK and actually used in the reality.

But someone insists the second is GRAMMATICALLY OK but not really used. He insists that it would be OK if the object(noun) was long, but in this case the noun is too short to go behind.

And I can still see a lot of cases about "get back a simple noun" pattern in the link below. https://youglish.com/pronounce/get%20back%20my/english?

So I think this is just kinda optional and both are used. What do you guys think about this? The short nouns can hardly go behind phrasal verbs?

  • 1
    A century ago, He got back his strength was actually more common in AmE than He got his strength back. And that was still true of BrE right up until the 1960s.But although there has been quite a marked usage shift over time, it's ridiculous to suggest either format is "uncommon". Nov 6, 2023 at 4:21
  • @FumbleFingers I like it better when you're in "let's take N-gram with a grain of salt" mode. What appears in writing could be the result of rulers coming down hard on knuckles. Nov 6, 2023 at 17:05
  • @TimR: I've always assumed that many a knuckle was rapped in defense of ludicrous strictures like Never end a sentence with a preposition and Never split an infinitive. But in the grand scheme of things, imho such pedantry has had little or no effect on actual usage. Native Anglophones learn English by listening and talking to other Anglophones, not by listening to grammarians! Nov 6, 2023 at 18:32
  • But published prose often gets edited and "cleaned up". I don't think we can conclude from that N-gram evidence that "got back {object]" was more common than "got [object] back" books.google.com/ngrams/… Nov 6, 2023 at 21:39

1 Answer 1


They are both grammatically correct. The first one is much more commonly used with short objects, and the second one more with long objects.

The more formal the writing, the less natural the second one feels with short objects. So "...not really used" applies to formal written contexts, but is an exaggeration elsewhere. Having a long object split the phrasal verb is fine in everyday, informal and unprepared speech, like many of the videos you found on YouGlish.

  • 1
    It's probably been covered by previous answers, but with phrasal verbs the position of the object isn't flexible if the object is a pronoun. So He got the money back, He got back the money, and He got it back are all fine, but ** He got back it is INVALID. Nov 6, 2023 at 4:29
  • @FumbleFingers That's true, though only about personal pronouns, not all of them. I thought about it, but if felt too tangential to the question, like it would be more confusing than helpful. The OP only asked about short objects, not the rules for separable phrasal verbs with personal pronouns in particular.
    – gotube
    Nov 6, 2023 at 4:38
  • Until I read it from you, I wasn't consciously aware that the modern preference for inserting the object within the phrasal verb is particularly strong with short noun phrases (but it's pretty obvious when you think about it; parsing is far more awkward if the two halves of a phrasal verb are too far apart). But perhaps the "only "break" phrasal verbs with short objects" principle is actually connected to the "always break phrasal verbs with pronouns" principle. They certainly seem to be at least "compatible" principles. Nov 6, 2023 at 4:49
  • In my neck of the woods, it's not at all unusual to hear things like I got the sweater I lost at last week's football game back. "According to linguist Barbara Johnstone, migration patterns and geography affected the dialect's development, which was especially influenced by immigrants from Northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Nov 6, 2023 at 17:14
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, I'd be surprised if the pronouns rule didn't share a history with the tendency to place longer objects after the particle.
    – gotube
    Nov 6, 2023 at 20:26

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