For the phrasal verb to throw something up, as it to toss an object in the air, is this sentence OK, or is it interpreted as John vomiting out a ball?

(I) John threw up a ball

My intuition is that this would imply John ejected a ball from his stomach through his mouth. To get the reading where John tosses the ball in the air, I would need the particle up to follow the object.

(II) John threw a ball up.

  • 2
    I would say he threw it upward or into the air. To me, both sentences you wrote refer to vomit.
    – user85526
    Nov 18, 2014 at 22:28

3 Answers 3


I would prefer phrase 2, but did a google ngram.

It does indicate that phrase 2 is more common now, but as somewhat of a surprise to me, phrase 1 is before 1900 or so!


Your sentence I could mean either, but real-world knowledge makes it more likely that it is about throwing rather than vomiting.

Your sentence II is possible, but I find it unidiomatic unless you are emphasising the "up". (eg up as opposed to across, or up meaning "to a person or place already mentioned as being above him").

  • Is it real-world knowledge that cancels out that reading, or is throw up something always implying vomit? Nov 18, 2014 at 22:33
  • "Throw up a line" when trying to cross between 2 boats of different heights might not imply vomiting. But usually throw up does mean vomiting.
    – Oldcat
    Nov 19, 2014 at 0:12
  • There's also another idiomatic use of throw up which is not about vomiting, eg That run threw up several errors.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:22

If the particke is an adverb, as in this case, and the direct object a noun, either word order is correct.

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