I was wondering about the concepts listed in the title. In one side we have the separable verbs in German, like mitkommen:

Ich komme mit.

On the other hand we have phrasal verbs such as think over in English or ndar fóra in Venetian:

You need to think it over.

Vojo ndar fóra.

The first thought I had before writing this question was: how are separable verbs in German any different from phrasal verbs? Is it just because German also has another set of verbs that do not do that? It seemed that these preposition-like particles where working as adverbs, just like "fóra" is an adverb in Venetian.

But then I thought about the Venetian verbs specifically and noticed that in Portuguese, for instance, it is possible to find contructions like that all the time, like "jogar/deitar fora", meaning "to throw away":

Joguei/deitei o lixo fora.

However, I have never seen anyone say that Portuguese has "phrasal verbs".

So what is happening? Are all these examples the same phenomenon (verb + adverb)?

2 Answers 2


Well, separable verbs and phrasal verbs are different things because they work differently.

Ich muss die Tür auf-machen.
*I need to up-bring it.

The particle part of an English phrasal verb never attaches to the front of the verb, which is the defining feature of German separable verbs.

Why are they different from verbs with prepositions or adverbs? Again, they act differently.

I went up the hill.
I went up the hill and through the town.
I looked up the definition.
*I looked up the definition and through the book.

I ate quickly.
I ate and drank quickly.
I backed him up.
*I backed and looked him up.

  • Actually, particle verbs in German and English only look different, but they work the same. You even have separation of verb and particle in English, something that, otherwise, German is famous for...
    – Alazon
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:18
  • @Alazon They're the same sort of beast, but imo they act differently enough that it's reasonable to give them different names. In English, whether you can split them or not depends on whether the object is a noun or a pronoun: "I looked the facts up", "I looked up the facts", "I looked them up", *"I looked up them". This is the same regardless of the position in a sentence: "I need to look up the facts". In German on the other hand it's all about position: the verb can move but the particle can't and gets left behind.
    – Draconis
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:30
  • Yes, what you point out is a difference. But the fact that verb+particle can be separated in principle, although they count as "one word" in a certain sense, is a commonality. As far as I know, the standard explanation is that the English verb is preposed in such constructions and the particle stays behind, which is very much like the German situation, although, again, the details differ. -- I guess the reason that blocks "I looked up them" is prosodic not syntactic? (something to look up).
    – Alazon
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:35
  • "I need to up-bring it. The particle part of an English phrasal verb never attaches to the front of the verb" And yet the very example you cite *does have the particle attach to the front. "bring up" in the sense of "raise a child" transforms to "upbringing". There's also "upchuck", "upsell", "outsell", "input", "inscribe", "forgo", "outwit", "outplay", "outlast", "outcast", "downsize", "off putting", etc. Sep 18, 2023 at 23:41
  • @Acccumulation You can't talk about *upbringing a topic at a meeting. Similarly you can't *onturn someone (only turn on them), and you can't *last someone out (only outlast them). Prefixed verbs and phrasal verbs are generally separate things in English and most verbs can't be used in both ways.
    – Draconis
    Sep 19, 2023 at 0:40

German separable verbs and English phrasal verbs are considered basically the same thing --"particle verbs"-- but the grammatical differences between German and English lead to different outcomes. One difference is directionality, as was pointed out above: In English a particle follows the verb (like the object of the verb does), in German the particle precedes the verb (likewise the object).

A verbal particle and an adverb are not the same thing, for example a particle can occur between verb and object, but not an adverb: To push out the box but not * to push inside the box.

The above example is found in a German wikipedia article, which has many details on your question, at least, you can find linguistic literature in English cited there: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partikelverb#Partikelverben_im_Sprachvergleich

There is an article on Romance in the same handbook that has been used for the WP article (but I haven't read it): Claudio Iacobini: Particle Verbs in Romance, In: Peter O. Müller, Ingeborg Ohnheiser, Susan Olsen, Franz Rainer (eds.): Word-Formation. An International Handbook of the Languages of Europe (5 volumes). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-024624-7, see vol.1, pp. 627 ff.

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