I'm confused as to where I should place nouns/phrases when using two-word verbs. I've seen both of the following, so I'm unsure.

Why is no one picking up the phone?


Why is no one picking the phone up?


Why isn't anyone picking up their stuff?


Why isn't anyone picking their stuff up?

I was taught that I should use verb together + noun/prhase if the phrase or the noun that accompanies a two-word verb is long, and that I should use first part of the verb + a short noun/phrase + the second part of the verb if the noun/phrase is short.

But I have no idea just how much is considered long/short.

1 Answer 1


The idea is that you don't want to move the adverb so far away from the verb that the reader or listener becomes confused at its sudden appearance in the sentence:

Why isn't anyone picking this mint-condition Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb DVD up?

By the end of the sentence it's been so long since we've seen "picking" that when we encounter "up" we become confused ("'DVD up'? What does that mean?") and have to reread the sentence. This is obviously an extreme example, but you should use your own judgment to decide when moving the second part of the verb closer to the first part would make the sentence clearer.

For short sentences, you can usually feel free to do it either way. I'm not aware of any rule that requires separating the two parts of the verb in a short sentence.

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