|Abstract:||The particle verb construction (PVC), also referred to in the literature as phrasal verb or separable complex verb, occurs in most if not all of the Germanic languages. The work presented here deals with a comparison of the transitive PVC in English and German. In English, the construction occurs in two alternating word orders (They called off the concert vs. They called the concert off). In German, on the other hand, only one order is possible (Sie sagten das Konzert ab vs. *Sie sagten ab das Konzert; *Sie absagten das Konzert). The central question is why this kind of word order alternation is possible in a language with otherwise relatively strict word order such as English, but not in a related language such as German which is otherwise freer in its constituent ordering, allowing e.g. for scrambling. The difference between the two languages cannot be reduced to the fact that German but not English is a verb-second language. In this article, the pattern is explained in terms of (the ranking of) violable universal constraints. The relevant constraints are not only morphosyntactic in nature, but focus structure and prosody play a crucial role, too.