If I have a split verb, such as "pick up" and I am a addressing a third person, I can say either:

I will pick Fred up at 11am.


I will pick up Fred at 11am.

For the second person, we have:

I will pick you up at 11am.

But it sounds wrong if I say:

I will pick up you at 11am.

What is my missing understanding here?


My understanding from reading the possible duplicate question and the given answers, is that there is no strict rule about this at all, only a matter of style.

Thinking about it, I realised there is nothing wrong with the fourth example above, for example, if you wanted to give emphasis. Imagine saying the sentence and pointing your finger at the intended person:

I will pick up you at 11am.

It is no longer an awkward sentence, but becomes a highly emphatic one.

  • 3
    It's called splitting of phrasal verbs. See: "Is there any rule about splitting phrasal verbs?" english.stackexchange.com/q/77472/14666
    – Kris
    Dec 13 '18 at 8:36
  • "Pick up" is not a verb: "pick" is the verb and "up" is a preposition. "Up" serves as a 'particle', a complement that can come between the verb and its direct object. But the order 'particle+object' is inadmissible if the object is an unstressed personal pronoun, and it's this constraint that makes your last example *"I will pick up you" ungrammatical.
    – BillJ
    Dec 13 '18 at 8:42
  • 1
    @BillJ Is there a logic to that rule, or is it an arbitrary rule? (Also, I realised I now have to look up unstressed vs stressed pronoun)
    – Stewart
    Dec 13 '18 at 9:40
  • 1
    The logic is that it simply sounds awful, as you discovered in the ungrammatical "I will pick up you at 11am".
    – BillJ
    Dec 14 '18 at 9:25

As the comments have rightfully corrected me, you can put the object between the parts of the verb whether it's a noun or pronoun, as in

I will pick you/him/Fred/my unicorn up at 11am.

but may put it after the verb if it's a noun, as in

I will pick up Fred/my unicorn up at 11am.

but not if it's a pronoun as in

incorrect: I will pick up you/him at 11am.

Assuming you are a non-native speaker you would have heard the phrase containing "you" much more often than with a 3rd person singular, such as "Fred", possibly leading your intuition to gloss over the sentence not recognising a familiar pattern, while noticing something's off with "you".

  • Oxford Learner's Dictionary say that pick the package up and pick up the package are both perfectly acceptable. (That's what the ↔ means.) But if X is a pronoun, it has to come between pick and up. In fact, that's true for phrasal verbs with moveable particles in general. Dec 16 '18 at 15:21
  • This is not correct, I’m afraid. First off because you mean ‘object’ rather than ‘subject’ (the subject is “I”, not “X”), but more importantly because the distinction mentioned in the question is an actual difference: it is perfectly fine to place the object after the preposition, but only if it’s not a pronoun. Dec 16 '18 at 15:24
  • I see, terribly sorry about that, I'll fix it right away. Dec 16 '18 at 15:25

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.