I tried to research the difference beween particle and preposition in phrasal verb, but the information on this website is not very clear. According to the website, in "She is making up excuses" up is called particle, but in the sentence "stop picking on your brother " on is preposition because the information comes immediatey after the phrasal verb completes a prepositional phrase. Without these prepositional phrase, the sentence would be incomplete. Can't the same be said about "she is making up excuses"? Without the preposition, the sentence would also be incomplete. I would appreciate greatly a more detailed explanation.

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    Real transitive phrasal verbs like make up can be distinguished from prepositional uses like pick on by checking for Particle Shift. Both He made up the answer and He made the answer up are grammatical; but only He's picking on his brother is grammatical. You can't say *He's picking his brother on. Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 4:11
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    First, you should be aware that 'particle' is not a part of speech, but a term used for those complements that can occur between a verb and its direct object. Particles are mostly prepositions like "down", "in", "up" etc, as in "She took down the suitcases". In your example "up" is a preposition (cf. "She is making excuses up"). Btw, I would avoid the term 'phrasal verb'. It's a misnomer: in your example, it's just "making" that is the verb.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 6:45
  • I strongly disagree with BillJ's advice about phrasal verbs. The point is that the phrase "make up" behaves just like a verb, even though it is more than just one word. When "up" appears in that context, it should be understood as part of a verb phrase rather than as having a separate role. Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 7:01
  • @DanielAsimov This is the kind of unhelpful stuff that they used to teach us as EFL teachers. How many verbs split in two and appear in either side of their direct objects? The preposition up has an idiomatic meaning along the lines of in(to) existence. The frame ‘(verb) something up’ is productive and one can stick any suitable verb in that verb slot. The word up there is effectively an object oriented depictive complement. Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 8:32
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    @Araucaria. Essentially, I now teach students to recognise idiomatic MWVs in sentences they are trying to understand. And how to look them up (!) in a good dictionary such as Collins Phrasal Verbs. They then need to be taught how to use the MWV correctly. This basically also entails using a good dictionary with examples and simply learning the specific MWV's grammar if the verb seems worth entering into the active lexicon. I don't think there is much useful generalisability here.
    – Shoe
    Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 14:42

1 Answer 1


One test is to use a pronoun for the object. If the order verb object particle is acceptable, then the particle is an adverb, not a preposition. If the order verb particle object is acceptable, then the particle is a preposition.

1a. Stop picking on him.

1b. *Stop picking him on.

2a. *Stop leading on him.

2b. Stop leading him on.

So here, in "pick on", "on" is a preposition, but in "lead on", "on" is an adverb.

(All this assumes that it's meaningful at all to assign a part of speech to a phrasal verb's particle.)

  • Intransitive prepositions are not adverbs. EFL literature and dictionaries are still using 19th century grammar. There’s a reason that students and non-‘enlightened’ EFL teachers assume that these words are prepositions: they are. Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 6:55

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