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Another murky subject arose today:

Would like to know, which one is appropriate:

I am unable to attend the mandatory meeting; I will make up some excuse.

Or:

I am unable to attend the mandatory meeting; I will make some excuse up.

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    "Make up some excuse" would probably be preferred but both work.
    – Catija
    May 22, 2015 at 9:18
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    both are okay but considering the proximity, I'd opt for 'make up some excuse'. The more number of words you have between the verb and its adverb particle, the more perplexity you add. That simple it is. Because if you have many words in between, the reader may get surprised seeing that particle popping up from nowhere. He might have completely forgotten that 'up' is attached to 'make'. Say: "She switched the red color monster-like looking land drilling machine on" Aww... from where does 'on' come? So, better put 'on' with 'switch'.
    – Maulik V
    May 22, 2015 at 10:16
  • Hi Maulik, even in your example, doesn't splitting "on" give the sentence a stylish twist? Somehow, I love splitting them up ☺ May 22, 2015 at 10:20
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    @RaviOpenSource I love your attitude toward grammar. Yes, grammar is a resource to be used, not a tyrant to be obeyed! And as with any other tool, you learn it by experimentation. It is grammatical to delay "on" as in Maulik's example, though just as Maulik says, it can surprise a listener. Surprise is not necessarily bad, of course. It's part of your bag of tricks as a speaker and writer of the language. I hope someone writes you an answer about this! Also, the long-delayed "on" is common in speech, less common in writing (because you edit to make long sentences more graceful).
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 22, 2015 at 13:22

1 Answer 1

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Since we're legitimately allowed to separate the verb "make" from its particle "it", both of these options are fine. This is known as a separable phrasal verb. You don't have to separate these as long as you're not using a pronoun. For example:

I made the most ridiculous excuse up

and

I made up the most ridiculous excuse

are both fine. But:

I made up it

is not correct since the pronoun must separate verb and particle.

In practice, Catija (see comment above) is right. It is easier for both the speaker and listener/reader to parse if we keep the whole phrasal verb together and put the complement after, otherwise we can get lost waiting for the particle. So,

Make up some excuse

is probably preferred, but both are correct.

Here is a little light reading on phrasal verbs.

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    Why bring "it" into the question? The OP says nothing about "it"...?
    – Catija
    May 22, 2015 at 9:34
  • @Catija I think would have been easy for a reader to infer that you can keep the phrasal verb together even in "I make up it". Given the limitless quirkiness of English grammar, it's hard to know when to stop adding these "oh, but wait, it's different in this situation" remarks, but I think this one is pretty important. Many ESL learners have an especially hard time with phrasal verbs, because they don't correspond to anything in their native language.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 22, 2015 at 9:57
  • Yeah, pretty much what Ben says. I didn't want the OP to go away thinking it's always best to keep the verb parts together, when a pronoun must separate the two. Even though we have all advised the same thing on this occasion, I felt this was a pertinent enough point to warrant mentioning.
    – JMB
    May 22, 2015 at 10:23

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