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I'm learning about phrasal verbs, but I'm not sure if I'll use them correctly. Which one of the following phrasal verb uses correct:

-I don't know how to turn down the volume?

-I don't know how to turn the volume down?

I always think that they're same, but lately I feel like there must be a rule how to use them correctly, or perhaps they get different meanings?

marked as duplicate by user21503, Nathan Tuggy, snailboat, Usernew, Glorfindel Nov 15 '15 at 8:03

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They're both fine, and they mean the same thing. The particle down can appear before or after the object the volume:

1a. I don't know how to turn the volume down.
​1b. I don't know how to turn down the volume.

However, if the object is an unstressed personal pronoun, down has to come at the end:

2a. I don't know how to turn it down.
2b. *I don't know how to turn down it.

I marked example 2b with an asterisk * to indicate that it's ungrammatical.

By the way, if the object is very long or complicated, down usually appears beforehand, because it would be confusing to keep the listener waiting to hear the rest of turn down:

3a. ?I don't know how to turn the volume on the stereo receiver attached to the TV over there down.
3b. I don't know how to turn down the volume on the stereo receiver attached to the TV over there.

I marked 3a with a question mark ? to show that, although it's grammatical, it's not a very good sentence. With such a long object, it's better to put down beforehand.

  • Thank you very much, one last question how if it's not particle but preposition? Could we still generally exchange the position? – Plain_Dude_Sleeping_Alone Nov 14 '15 at 10:02
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    "Will you look after my little sister while I'm in the hospital?" In this example after is not a particle. It's just a regular preposition, and we can't move after to the end. *"Will you look my little sister after while I'm in the hospital?" is ungrammatical. – snailboat Nov 14 '15 at 10:10
  • Please note that you say "Turn down for what?" not "Turn for what down?" – Azor Ahai Nov 15 '15 at 2:39
  • A number of my formerly Yiddish speaking ancestors would still tell you to "throw down the stairs my hat and coat" :) – Josh Rumbut Nov 15 '15 at 8:31
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These kind of phrasal verbs are called separable.

Some transitive phrasal verbs are separable, which means there are two possible positions for the object.

1.- He took off his jacket.
2.- He took his jacket off.

However when the object is a pronoun, it always goes between the two parts of a separable verb.

1.- He took it off.
2.- He took o̶f̶f̶ ̶i̶t̶.

  • For some reason, I can't put the second example right below the first one. I don't know how to do it. If someone knows, please show how to do so, thanks. – Alejandro Nov 14 '15 at 13:50
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    Do you mean "he"? – Azor Ahai Nov 15 '15 at 2:38
  • Of course! Didn't see that. – Alejandro Nov 15 '15 at 3:26
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If you want to be technical, this phrase has entered the English Language due to its widespread use (because everyone has a radio nowadays, right?). Phrases that enter like this don't usually follow normal grammatical rules or common sense (e.g. slow down vs slow up).

In other words, either way is acceptable.

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