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By two simple Google searches, I find that "split up the mesh" is significantly more common than "split the mesh up", with 480,000 hits versus only 2,930.

However, when I replace "the mesh" with "it" (consider "it" as referring to the mesh) the result is reversed: "split up it" sounds weird, and it only has 848,000 hits, of which most (if not all) seem to have different meanings than what I intended for that expression (the same meaning as with "split up the mesh"), while "split it up" sounds right and has 1,560,000 hits, of which most seem to have the same meaning as I intended.

To me it seems like when I swapped "the mesh" out for "it," the correct order of the words also switched. Is this correct, and why is that in that case? Is this switching behavior common in English?

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  • Yes, that's correct. Split up is a Phrasal Verb, which consists of a verb split and a "particle" up (which you could think of as attached to the verb with a rubber band). It's transitive, so its direct object can go either after the particle or between the verb and the particle. The longer the object is, the more likely it is to come after. But if the direct object is a pronoun (it, him,...) then it has to go between the verb and the particle. The name of the rule is "Particle shift". Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 1:38

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"Split up" is a phrasal verb, or more specifically a particle verb (see Wikipedia). In this case the particle is the word "up."

As that Wikipedia article notes, "the particle may come either before or after the object of the verb," but "when the object is a pronoun, the particle is usually placed afterwards," whereas "with nouns, it is a matter of familiar collocation or of emphasis."

Hence, since "it" is a pronoun, "split it up" would be more common, though technically "split up it" is also correct. By contrast, because "the mesh" is a noun rather than a pronoun, "split up the mesh" is fine.

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    Actually, I'm pretty sure that split up it is ungrammatical.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 1:31

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