Turn off the light or Turn the light off?


New Member
Is "Turn off the light" or "Turn the light off" correct?
When I learned the grammar,
the book explained that an adverb (0ff) can come after an object only if an object is pro-noun.
However, I recently found out that it can come either before or after an object if the object is not a pro-noun. Is this correct? I hear people say "turn the light off" most of time.
Also, most of time, people say "Pick up Michael", not "Pick Michael up"; This is contrary to the previous example.
Is there a rule or just use which is easier to pronounce?
  • Tim~!

    Senior Member
    UK — English
    Sometimes you are allowed to separate the verbs and the particles in these phrasal verbs.

    The two that you are discussing (turn off and pick up) are both separable, so you can say "Turn off the light!", "Turn the light off!", "Pick up Michael!", and "Pick Michael up!" without any problem.

    However, once pronouns come into the equation, you must separate: "Pick him up!", "Turn it off!"

    Some phrasal verbs just will not allow you to separate the verb and the particle though. You can "look up a word" and "look a word up", and you must "look it up"; however, change from "look up" to "look after" and you're trapped; you "look after a child" but cannot "look the child after". No splitting is allowed, not even with pronouns.

    I used to be under the impression that there was no way to tell whether a phrasal verb is separable or not, but it strikes me that I once figured out a rule. Unfortunately, it escapes me at the moment.

    I'll come back once I've thought it over.


    Senior Member
    "Turn off the light" and "turn the light off" mean the same thing. But sometimes off after turn is just a preposition:

    Turn off this road at the blue sign. :tick: (This off is a preposition.)
    Turn this road off at the blue sign. :cross: (The preposition off must precede its object.)

    A phrasal verb takes on a different meaning than its parts, which distinguishes it from a verb followed by a prepositional phrase and from a verb followed by an adverb:

    Look over this report.
    [Inspect this report.] (A separable phrasal verb.)
    Look this report over. [the same]
    Look Mary over. [Inspect Mary.] (The same phrasal verb.)
    Look over Mary. [Literally "over Mary".] (This over is a preposition. No phrasal verb here.)
    Overlook me. [Ignore me.] (A different verb, but interesting.)
    She is known all over the world. (This over is a preposition.)
    She is known the world over. (This over is a postposition.)

    Pick up is a phrasal verb with two possible meanings:

    Pick up Michael. [Probably "Take a vehicle to Michael for transportation." Possibly "Lift Michael."]
    Pick Michael up. [Probably "Lift Michael". Possibly "Take a vehicle to Michael for transportation."]

    When pick up means "lift (up)", up has its literal meaning as an adverb but gives special meaning to pick.

    Sometimes the line between verb plus whatever and phrasal verb is blurred even more:

    I will see you through.
    [I will help you get past the difficulty.] (I think this is the verb see and the adverb through, but the phrase is being used metaphorically. Phrasal verb?)
    I will see through you. [I will know what you are planning to do.] (This through is a preposition. No phrasal verb here.)


    Senior Member
    In the case, we can say Pick Micheal up or Pick him up.
    another one .. Can you help me to zip up the jacket?
    Can you help me to zip it up? It replaces jacket.


    Senior Member
    American English
    In the case, we can say Pick Micheal up or Pick him up.
    another one .. Can you help me to zip up the jacket?
    Can you help me to zip it up? It replaces jacket.
    These examples are not related to the original question. You're simply asking if you can use "him" or "it" in place of "Michael" or "jacket." Yes, you can.