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  • Topic

    take (something) off

    E.g.1. He TOOK OFF his clothes and got into bed.
    E.g.2. She TOOK her coat OFF and hung it on the hook in the corner of the room.

    These are examples taken from "Churchill House's Phrasal Verb of the Day". Is there a reason for separating the verb in the second example? (I guess there is no difference between taking off clothes or a coat, oder?)

    Thanks for your help!
    AuthorKathrin13 Nov 02, 09:22
    Kathrin, that's a really interesting one I never thought about. In both sentences both word orders would be gramatically correct. If I say the second one, I emphasize the word 'coat' and hesitate a bit. In the first sentence the emphasis / hesitation comes after the word 'clothes'. The second one sounds more orderly. But that's not yet a logical explanation ...
    #1AuthorNancy13 Nov 02, 09:35
    I seem to feel a slight pressure not to separate when the article is in the plural, but only very slightly, i.e.

    "He took off his shoes" sounds fine to me (Score: 10)
    "He took his shoes off" sounds almost as good (score 9)

    But for the singular it seems to be the other way round:

    "He took his shoe off" (9)
    "He took off his shoe" (10)

    This is also the first time I've thought about it, and I find it mysterious. Wonder if anyone else agrees with my "scores" or could give their own feelings about this.
    #2AuthorPeter <us>13 Nov 02, 20:51
    IMHO no reason, just a matter of style...
    just a matter of style, no reason IMHO...
    #3Authorvi13 Nov 02, 21:05
    @Peter: in both instances you gave the 10 score to the non-separated version.... accident? or does the non-separated just sound better to the American ear? - I would say so.... at least it does for me...
    #4Authorvi13 Nov 02, 21:08
    Objects of separable phrasal verbs may,but needn't, separate the two verb parts. But when the object is a pronoun, the two verb parts must be separated:

    He took it off - grammatical
    He took off it - ungrammatical.
    #5Authordg14 Nov 02, 03:17
    It is a common misconception (in part spread by generative syntacticians) that word order is fixed, even in English. You can see evidence of this if you look at German, where word order, especially complement order, is fairly fluid, within certain bounds.
    Word order seems to be governed by constraints such as
    1 put the object of a verb next to the verb.
    2 put an adverb modifying a verb next to the verb.
    3 put parts of phrasal verbs (ie things like "off" in "take off") next to their head verbs.
    4 put "light" (ie short) things before "heavy" (ie long) things, especially if they are "sisters", ie about equally far up the phrase structure tree.
    Now in English rule 1 is stronger than rule 2, so we get
    I like cheesecake very much
    whereas in French the reverse is true so we get
    J'aime beaucoup le gateau (French for cheesecake?)
    In "take off something" rules 1 and 3 are contradictory, they are competing. In
    He poured the beer quickly out
    He poured out the beer quickly
    He poured quickly out the beer
    etc etc
    the components "the beer", "out" and "quickly" are competing for the best slot.
    Conclusion: these rules are not absolute but just related to preferredness. Some research into grammar suggests that all linguistic rules have this characteristic.
    I think that this is fascinating of course, but then I am a linguist.
    #6Authorincorruptible14 Nov 02, 12:30
    For me it's down to a matter of emphasis. Both are correct and sound correct, but in sentence 2 you are emphasising the coat (for some contextual reason).
    #7AuthorTrue 14 Nov 02, 14:32
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