6

Example:

I stared at my brown sneakers, deciding whether to bring up the subject.

I stared at my brown sneakers, deciding whether to bring the subject up.

What's the different between the two? Are both grammatical? Which one is more common?

  • Using 'whether' like that sounds a bit odd. It's usual to say 'whether or not'. If you don't want to use 'or not', then consider replacing 'whether' with 'if I should' and dropping the 'to'. – Steve Ives Aug 26 '15 at 12:42
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    @SteveIves: I disagree; I believe "whether to ..." is fine, and "whether or not to ..." is redundant. – Scott Aug 26 '15 at 18:58
6

With a verb + preposition combination like this one (sometimes called a separable phrasal verb), we can choose to put the Object either before or after the preposition:

  • Take the rubbish out.
  • Take out the rubbish.

When the Object is a pronoun it must go before the preposition and cannot go afterwards:

  • Take it out.
  • *Take out it. (ungrammatical)

Notice here that pronouns are very short, usually only one syllable.

And if the Object is very long, native speakers prefer to put it after the preposition. It can sound very bad if we put a long Object before the preposition:

  • I'm taking the rubbish you left lying around on the floor yesterday afternoon out. (awkward - long Object in the middle)
  • I'm taking out the rubbish you left lying around on the floor yesterday afternoon. (good - long Object after the preposition).

The Original Poster's question

The Object in the Original Posters question isn't very long. It's only three syllables. It isn't a pronoun either We can choose therefore whether to put it before or after the pronoun. There might be other factors that make us more likely to choose one or the other. For example, whether the subject represents old or new information. Or, maybe more importantly whether one choice is more idiomatic than the other.

In my opinion bring up the subject is more idiomatic than bring the subject up although both are entirely grammatical. Here's an Ngram comparing the two, which seems to back up my idea. Blue shows bring up the subject and red shows bring the subject up. It looks as if bring up the subject might be more idiomatic. However, remember that it's only an Ngram, so there might be other reasons for one being more common than the other:

Edit note: Just to illustrate that native speakers' intuitions may be different, see Racheet's helpful comments below!

  • 1
    I wonder if this is a dialect thing, to my BrE ear it sounds marginally more natural and idiomatic for someone to bring the subject up, than it does for them to bring up the subject. – Racheet Aug 26 '15 at 17:15
  • @Racheet Erm don't think so, it's probably just a case of my idiolect deceiving me ;) I'm BrE too! [I did loads of hedging on that in the answer in case my intuitions were wrong about that]. On the other hand I suppose it could be a regional variation thing. Actually, no, I'm probably just wrong! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 26 '15 at 17:29
  • I suspect it is very idiolect driven then, I'm sorry for bringing the subject up :) – Racheet Aug 26 '15 at 17:32
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    @Racheet No! I'm sorry for bringing the subject up ;) It's good to give learners the intuitions of lots of native speakers. Thanks. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 26 '15 at 23:06
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    @Araucaria It could be even more interesting to see the distribution of the usage in various contexts. Here are the results in BYU-BNC corpus: ("bring the subject up" vs. "bring up the subject"). It's clear that when we exclude fiction (which the settings may cover all other kinds of contexts), "bring the subject up" is mainly spoken. I've tried both BYU-BNC and COCA, and got similar results. – Damkerng T. Aug 27 '15 at 1:25
3

There is no difference. Some phrasal verbs allow the object to be placed between the verb and the particle, some don't. And if the object is a pronoun, like it, for instance, the pronoun always follows the verb. You can't grammatically say "to bring up it", you should say "to bring it up".

1

They will both be understood, but you might choose one or the other depending upon if 'the subject' is already known. For example:

"I stared at my brown sneakers, thinking about the broken vase, deciding whether or not to bring the subject up."

"I stared at my brown sneakers, deciding whether or not to bring up the subject of the broken vase."

-3

The first one, "To bring up the subject", is grammatically correct because up is a preposition and sentences do not end with prepositions. Therefore "to bring the subject up" is grammatically incorrect".

  • 1
    "sentences do not end with prepositions" Citation needed. This is a rather dogmatic assertion that, say, Churchill (legendarily so, in fact) would very much object to. – Nathan Tuggy Dec 16 '15 at 5:12
  • I always wonder about this. In American TV sitcoms I often see scenes where a knowledgeable character - f.ex. a teacher - rebukes someone like "We don't end our sentences with prepositions. We don't say ´bring the subject up´, we say ´bring up the subject.´". Although it's comedy the scene irony is on the fact that a rebuke takes place, not on the content of the rebuke itself, which is always presented as correct. That always led me to think that - at least in American English - ending sentences with prepositions is wrong, despite its usage being endemic, but I don't know if that's true. – SantiBailors Dec 16 '15 at 10:20
  • Up is a particle that is part of the phrasal verb bring up. There is no prepositional phrase, so how could there be a preposition? – user20792 Dec 16 '15 at 10:46
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    You might also like to read When is it appropriate to end a sentence in a preposition?, also @SantiBailors – user20792 Dec 16 '15 at 10:59

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