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July 7, 2002 - Grammar Lady: Verb Phrases - 2002-07-03

Broadcast on VOA News Now: July 7, 2002
[First broadcast: July 29, 2001]

AA: This is Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble. This week on Wordmaster -- a lesson in verb phrases! These are verbs with particles added. For instance, take the verb "call." To "call up" means to telephone. To "call on" means to visit a person or to ask for something -- and we called on Grammar Lady Mary Newton Bruder to help explain phrasal verbs.

BRUDER: "One type is a verb where the preposition can move, so 'I called up my friend' or 'I called my friend up.'"

RS: "Meaning the same thing."

BRUDER: "Meaning exactly the same thing. And the other kind, as in 'call on' -- 'I called on my friend' -- in that case, the preposition doesn't move."

RS: "That is so difficult in American English."

BRUDER: "You just have to memorize them. So if you say, for example, 'I called up my friend,' or 'I called my friend up,' the problem is when you have a pronoun -- 'I called him up' or 'I called her up' -- with the pronoun it's always fixed. The pronoun has to be in the middle.

AA: For example, take the sentence, "I'm going to pick up the paper." If you replace "paper" with the pronoun "it," "I'm going to pick up the paper" becomes "I'm going to pick it up," not "I'm going to pick up it."

That's what Grammar Lady means when she says the pronoun has to be in the middle.

Now take a sentence like "I'm writing up the reports." You could also say "I'm writing the reports up." But in either case, the correct pronoun form is "I'm writing them up," not "I'm writing up them."

BRUDER: "So I'll give you a few phrases and you change them to the pronoun. So if I say, 'I'm going to give the clothes away,' you change it to 'I'm going to give them away.' OK? 'I'm going to throw the papers away.'"

RS: "I'm going to throw them away."

BRUDER: "I'm going to take the stray dogs in."

RS: "I'm going to take them in."

BRUDER: "I'm going to lay the book down."

RS: "I'm going to lay it down."

BRUDER: "I'm going to write the names down."

RS: "I'm going to write them down. Now, you say the best way to learn these is to memorize them. And so what I would think is, if you memorized them in some sort of context, not just the two words ..."

BRUDER: "No, you have to memorize them with the meaning, because it won't make any sense in the long run, unless you have the meaning with them too."

RS: "Right, so memorize them in sentences, in phrases, in situations, so that you can better remember them in the long run, as you say."

BRUDER: "Right, OK, now the type B, I've called them verbs with non-movable prepositions, and the example I gave you is to 'call on,' meaning to visit, 'I called on my friend. I called on him.' There aren't as many of these, but they are very, very commonly used in English. So, 'we're going to look at the picture,' 'I'm going to look at it.' In these the verb and the preposition form a single unit and it doesn't change when you put in the pronoun. OK, so, here we go. 'Think of the answer,' and you'd say 'I'm going to think of it' or something like that."

RS: "Right."

BRUDER: "OK, 'I asked for some information.'"

RS: "'Asked for some,' or 'asked for it.'"

BRUDER: "Decide on the answer."

RS: "Decide on it."

BRUDER: "'I'm going to look for some,' what ..."

RS: "Some cookies."

BRUDER: "Some cookies, OK."

AA: "I'm going to look for them."

BRUDER: "Right here on lunch time. OK, we'll look for them. Now in this category too there are some very common three-word verbs. To 'drop in on,' meaning to drop in unannounced. 'I'm going to drop in on my friends down the street.' To 'run out of,' to use up completely, 'I ran out of gas on the freeway,' for example."

AA: "These are idioms, common idioms."

BRUDER: "Very common ones, right. 'Brush up on,' to review something, 'I'm going to brush up on my Spanish before I go to Spain. To 'make up for,' to compensate, 'he wrote with his right hand to make up for ... ' I can't think of a good sentence for that one."

AA: "And these are perfectly acceptable in formal writing."

BRUDER: "Right, yes. 'Brush up on,' I mean, 'I'm going to brush up on my Spanish'? I think that's perfectly fine."

AA: To brush up on your English, you can visit Mary Newton Bruder on the Web at That's all our time for Wordmaster this week. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Time Don't Run Out on Me"/Anne Murray