Are they synonymous, or not?

Looking at wake up as a phrasal verb it seems that the more correct way is

"I will wake up Joe"

rather than

"I will wake Joe up",

but the second rolls better off my tongue…

I had a look around but could not find a rule.

Interestingly enough, Kosmonaut points out it is suddenly very obvious when using a pronoun instead of a name:

"Wake up him" vs. "Wake him up".

Update: I assume I am really looking at two situations: Using the known phrasal verb vs NOT using the phrasal verb.

  • 5
    Note that if you replace Joe with any pronoun, suddenly there is a strong preference for the second: "Wake up him" vs. "Wake him up". No contest.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 14:08
  • 1
    Yes - I knew that. Just wanted to get the rules right
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 14:23
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    Also note that, the longer the noun phrase is, the better the first option sounds, and the worse the second: "Wake up the man I saw yesterday wearing a red tie" vs "Wake the man I saw yesterday wearing a red tie up". First option is much better.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 1:25
  • 1
    Infuriating at EL&U when people downvote without letting us know why!
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 10:09
  • 1
    Perhaps the one downvote was a way of saying "Why didn't you mention Kosmonaut's point?" or "Show the research, not just a token link".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 6:56

6 Answers 6


Either can be used in many situations, but Verb Noun Adverb is the common order for all of these.

Put the jacket on. / Put on the jacket.

Pull up your pants. / Pull your pants up.

But sometimes the reversal doesn't work because the preposition seems to apply to the noun rather than the verb.

Get your clothes on. / Get on your clothes.

Work the lotion in. / Work in the lotion.

In the second versions here, you might be telling someone to stand on top of their clothing or work while covered in lotion. Certainly it is fine to say "Put on your clothes." It all depends on the verb being used.

Other times it would sound odd to reverse the order because the preposition means something else depending on the order:

Get the lead out! / Get out the lead!

The first means get moving more quickly; the second means to furnish forth some quantity of lead you may have.

  • 1
    I would not characterise "up" as an adverb here, but as part of the phrasal verb "wake up". As psmears says, the "up" tends to be after the direct object (but the longer the object is, the less likely this is). If the verbal complement does happen to be a preposition then putting it in front of the object risks an alternative interpretation where it absorbs the object to make an indirect object. The more plausible (semantically and pragmatically) this alternative interpretation is, the less likely it is that the complement will precede the object.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 15:14

"Wake up Joe" and "Wake Joe up" are both OK, and as you say the second flows better. But if a pronoun is used then the second form is not only better, it is compulsory: "Wake him up" works, but "*Wake up him" is ungrammatical.

This is almost always the case when the preposition in a phrasal verb is used as an adverb rather than strictly as a preposition... e.g. here "up" is an adverb because it specifies the "direction" of the waking, rather than applying to Joe specifically...


As an alternative to this 'either/or' scenario, I would suggest eliminating the word "up" from the phrase entirely. The result is perhaps more traditional, but I don't believe the word "up" is necessary in the example phrase, nor is it needed in most cases.

  1. "Go and wake Joe."
  2. "The drunk woke upon hearing the door slam."
  3. "I must wake at dawn in order to arrive on time."

Whether we are performing the waking action (transitive, Ex 1&3) or simply describing the waking (intransitive, Ex 2) the word "up" is not necessary. My understanding is that "up" came to be used because of the associated phrase "get up", as in "I got up in the morning".

One would not use "up" alongside other synonyms for most "waking" situations:

  1. "Joe rose from his drunken stupor." vs. "Joe rose up from his drunken stupor."
  2. "I must rise at dawn." vs. "I must rise up at dawn."

In these cases, the former sounds clean and proper, whereas the latter sounds a bit like the subject is rising from the dead or preparing for battle. I'd like to see more discussion on this topic, as I have also done searching outside of this forum and have had a hard time locating other opinions.

  • +1 just what I was also thinking. But "Joe rose from ..." and "Joe rose up from ..." have different tones to me, and they might both be valid. Including "up" seems to make the act sound more purposeful, and a less casual act. Commented May 3, 2013 at 8:22

Since wake up is separable phrasal verb and not all separable phrasal verbs doesn't change the meaning 'wake up Joe' means that the speaker is waking Joe up. On the other hand, 'wake him up' means that the speaker is asking someone to wake Joe up.

For example:

Wake up Joe, it's time!

Tony, wake Joe up, it's time!

  • Yes, that would also be an alternative interpretation. In the first, the speaker is speaking directly to Joe. In the second, the speaker is asking a third party to tell Joe it's time to get up.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 7:02

I would suggest the difference is one of emphasis. In the case of "wake up Joe", the implication would be "wake up Joe", rather than, say, put a mouse in his bed. In the other, "wake Joe up", it would mean "wake Joe up", rather than any of the other drunks lying around on the floor.

  • Neither of the distinctions you mention is sound. For the first case, with two people looking at Joe sleeping, needing him awake, both of "Wake up Joe" and "Wake Joe up" typically mean the same, and either Joe's name or a pronoun for him are needed in the utterance; in your second case, where Joe is one of many, again "Wake up Joe" and "Wake Joe up" have the same meaning. Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 20:33

wake + object, omit “up”. I wake Joe. He wakes his friends.

Only use wake up when it’s intransitive. I wake up. Joe wakes up.

(Now the word ‘wake’ sounds alien to me after typing it several times.)

  • 2
    Hi! Welcome to ELU. Can you provide a citation for "only use 'wake up' when it's intransitive"? "Can you wake up Joe?" is totally grammatical to me, so I'm curious where you've heard it isn't. Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 3:42

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