Is it wrong to say:

He took the hat off.

when you could keep the compound verb “took off” together?

He took off the hat.

And is the rule changed at all by more words being placed in the phrase?

Such as:

He took the great big yellow hat off.

  • 1
    See also Is it correct to change the-common structure in these phrasal verbs? and [break in [something] or break [something] in?](english.stackexchange.com/questions/445598/…). Essentially, some transitive MWVs are obligatorially non-separable, some are obligatorily separable, many are optionally separable, when object length does inform requirement. One needs to look up individual senses. May 21 at 15:35
  • 1
    This is a complicated topic that native speakers understand instinctively, as it is learned during childhood L1 acquisition; however, lesser mortals should check in a good learner's dictionary: I recommend OALD or Cambridge. For example, see this listing in Cambridge. May 21 at 16:25
  • Your examples are OK, but note that "take off" is not a compound (or multi-word) verb, but a verb+a preposition, i.e. two separate constituents: a verb + a preposition.
    – BillJ
    May 21 at 17:18
  • 1
    @BillJ: take off is indeed a multi-word verb, even if that isn't the correct grammatical term. It's traditionally known as a separable phrasal verb. We know off is not merely a preposition because you can move it after the object — he took his hat off. You can't do that with a mere preposition — He jumped the train onto is ungrammatical. May 21 at 17:57
  • Of course "off" is a prep, an intransitive one; what else could it be? "In "He took his hat off", the NP "his hat" is functioning as complement of the verb, with the preposition "off" functioning as a separate complement of the verb. And in He took off his hat", the preposition "off" is complement of the verb with "his hat" a separate complement of the verb.
    – BillJ
    May 21 at 18:39

1 Answer 1


Take off is a particle phrasal verb (warning: terminology varies). In the sense that you’re using it, it is a transitive verb whose object determines whether the verb can be split.

The verb must be split if the object is a personal pronoun:

He took it off.

The verb can be split if the object is an indefinite or a demonstrative pronoun:

He took something off.
He took off something.

The verb can be split if the object is a short noun phrase:

He took the hat off.
He took off the hat.

The verb should not be split if the object is a long noun phrase or a noun clause:

He took off the great big yellow hat.
He took off the great big yellow hat that he bought last week.
He took off whatever that thing on his head was.

  • You're right to be cautious about "phrasal verb" terminology, but that's certainly the phrase to google. The answer to the question is that only the phrasal verbs that govern the "particle shift" syntax rule allow the object to precede the particle and require it of pronoun objects. May 21 at 16:28
  • How can you 'split' a verb when it's not a verb in the first place? It's not the whole expression "take off" that is a verb, but just the word "take". "Off" is a separate constituent, a preposition.
    – BillJ
    May 21 at 16:59
  • ...and how does the intransitive version of "take off" work here? @BillJ May 21 at 17:01
  • @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ The same applies. For example in "They took off" ('fled') "took off" is a constituent, but it is not a constituent at word level: it’s a verb phrase. Verb is a word category, like noun, adjective, etc., and it’s "take" that is a verb: this is the word that takes verbal inflections. So we have "They have taken off", but not *"They have take offed".
    – BillJ
    May 21 at 17:32
  • @BillJ ‚ I'm aware that CGEL does not use the term phrasal verb for the above, but rather verb-particle-object construction. May 21 at 20:06

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