Talk:Phrasal verb

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Phrasal verbs and register in English[edit]

Hi guys this is my first time posting on a talk page so I apologize in advance if it breaks a rule. I read this: "They are commonly found in everyday, informal speech as opposed to more formal English and Latinate verbs, such as to get together rather than to congregate, to put off rather than to postpone (or to deter), or to do up rather than to fasten." on the article here, but there isn't a citation. I don't want to contest it, I'm just looking for a paper or book chapter so I can read about this for my own knowledge. Mordeaux (talk) 20:08, 26 June 2013 (UTC)

The portion of the article you cite was already present before I revised the article last year. While I do not know where the insight came from, I agree with it and therefore did not remove/contest it during the revision. Sorry, since I know that doesn't help. --Tjo3ya (talk) 21:06, 26 June 2013 (UTC)
Thanks all the same! I agree with it as well, and I have found something that says that schoolkids were once taught not to use phrasal verbs, so it follows that the formal register uses them less. I wonder if I can find any hard data though.. Mordeaux (talk) 21:26, 27 June 2013 (UTC)


Vicki, I am on your side, you know. There is such a thing as ironing out what one has just written but you didn't give me much of a chance. I really am not trying to foist something on to the reader that I haven't thoroughly looked into and researched, as you can see in the Talk section of Compound verb, which really is a bit of a misnomer for what it actually contains, apart from the the verbs containing two or more components, etc.-- Dieter Simon 00:15, 12 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Okay. Next time, do me a favor and put something like "intermediate save" in the summary line, so I'll know you're not done yet. Vicki Rosenzweig 00:20, 12 Aug 2003 (UTC)
Sorry about that. Yeh, Mav and others seem to warn that if it is a new article that that is precisely what can happen. Are you going to leave that last para in there? Should I add a summing up of sorts?Dieter Simon 00:49, 12 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Anyway, it's resolved itself now, seeminglyDieter Simon

Oops. Hope I didn't step on any toes with my addition. Or confuse the issue too thoroughly... Thirdreel 00:53, 12 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Wait, Thirdreel, what has all this to do with phrasal verbs? Neither "she walked out of the door" nor "she took out the garbage " are phrasal verb constructions. They both have a literal meaning, there is nothing figurative or idiomatic about either of these two sentences, which is really the yardstick of a phrasal verb. There is nothing idiomatic about "she took out the garbage", it is a statement of fact, whatever it may consist of. Please take a look at the Talk page of compound verbDieter Simon 01:10, 12 Aug 2003 (UTC)

I see that I've entered this carelessly. I'd read the article and thought I knew what I was talking about, but it seems I'm off from the accepted definition. I wanted to raise the distinction between the two formulas: verb plus prepositional phrase, and verb phrase plus object. "to turn on someone" and "to turn someone on." But if my addition was way off-base, feel free to delete it, or to use only what parts are relevant. Thirdreel 01:26, 12 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Don't feel bad, we all do it at times. :) I'll clean it up a bit tomorrow. Tonight is already morning. Dieter Simon

After all this, please accept my apologies, Vicki and Thirdreel, I don't know what came over me, a brainstorm I believe. I have now changed the gist of the article thoroughly and of course you can do so if there are other things you want to include or change. I have also sent apologies to IHCOYC. --Dieter Simon 23:21, 13 Aug 2003 (UTC)

I agree that this article is confusing the issues. (Part of this of course is how much confusion there is in the literature about what "phrasal verb" and "particle verb" etc mean.) I think, however, that "particle verb" and "verb-particle construction" refer exclusively to constructions that permit the particle placement alternation (aka particle movement). I have seen phrasal verb used for other things, but I don't think it's used for phrases where the particle is a true transitive preposition. --Serapio 19:24, 2004 Aug 23 (UTC)

Could someone give an example of a linguist who would call this a phrasal verb?

He came across the garden to speak to me (literal)

What I've seen called phrasal verbs and partical verb phrases are cases where the particle is intransitive, whether an adverb or a directional particle. I can understand the tendency to call MWEs like "turn on someone" or "come across something" (to find) phrasal verbs, but if "come across the garden" is a phrasal verb, then every verb with oblique arguments is a phrasal verb. What would you do with "come across the garden to the flowerbed for me"? -Serapio 09:35, 2004 Dec 22 (UTC)

phrasal verbs decoded[edit]

Phrasal verbs have been one of the most difficult areas of English to both teach and learn, and for the intermediate and advanced student a source of a feeling of inadequacy when they are proficient in grammar and vocabulary. The dedicated student, who has mastered the seemingly endless list of irregular verbs (the list is quite small really) has grappled with and overcome most of the grammatical difficulties, can spell and pronounce the ridiculously troublesome words such as hiccough, has a mountain to climb. Whereas in Spain and France the English language is not governed by a body such as the Real Academia Española or the Académie Française, and dictionaries differ as to what is a phrasal verb and what is idiomatic speech. If the dictionaries cannot agree and one may describe a phrase as idiomatic and another as a phrasal verb, then the problem for the teacher and student alike is twofold. Since there are thousands of idiomatic phrases, and thousands of phrasal verbs, how is the student ever going to speak like a native? When I took my TESOL course many years ago, I and other prospective English teachers were told that the only way to learn phrasal verbs was by heart, the reason being there was no apparent logic behind them. Yet these phrases make up a huge amount of the daily spoken vocabulary of native speakers who acquired them in the same way they acquired their grammar, unaware and completely ignorant of their origins. When a native English teacher attempts to explain the meaning finds that he or she cannot give a reason why ‘give over’ translates to ‘stop doing’ and the same goes for thousands of other phrases. Now, learning these phrases by heart can become a thing of the past. My colleague José García Bes and I have dedicated ourselves to the task of deciphering the seemingly impossible and have discovered a logical framework that can be used to explain English phrasal verbs. Our quest for the answers led us to the medieval period and has been a sort of linguistic archeology. There are 41 particles (prepositions or adverbs) that combine with verbs to form phrasal verbs. We have identified almost 4000 different definitions which fit within the framework of our hypothesis, and I am sure that the average student would find 4000 different definitions a daunting sum to commit to memory. We have found that one only needs to know the general significance of each particle in order to have a command of the verbs, thus reducing the problem by a hundredfold. Without giving the game away completely, I will give an example of how easy the problem can be overcome. Each particle represents a social level, activities or events, or locations where these societies and events took place during the medieval period. The following is our explanation of the phrasal verbs that take the particles around/about. The particles in this case can be used as alternatives such as roll around, or roll about. When the particle about is used with no alternative, then the significance of the particle is different from the meaning of around/about. The particle around, when used with no alternative is also different from the meaning when it is used with around/about Around/About

Around/about suggests situations, actions, attitudes and certain activities that took place around the medieval town centre or market-place, but unrelated to commercial activities such as buying or selling and overwhelmingly suggest the following: idleness, time-wasting, and non-production, people who are common, badly behaved, ill-mannered, clownish, unsophisticated, lacking control and being spectators at a show. Several verbs give a clue as to the meaning of around/about: fool, horse, lark, play and slap. Here we have key elements of street theatre dating from medieval times that continue to be widely represented in many parts of rural England and can be seen in the performances of today’s Morris Dancers. Morris Dancing is a traditional pastime in many parts of England performed in the open air as a form of street theatre. The dancers are troupes of men who continue the traditions of folk-dancing and mummer’s plays ( a simplistic type of early theatre depicting the struggle between good and evil, often religious in content but retaining pagan symbolism from the pre-Christian era). For more information go to The street theatre in those days was ribald, bawdy and unrefined, with unambiguous use of references to bodily functions as a basis for much of their humour and comedy, which today we call ‘toilet humour’ The spectators would crowd around/about, sit, lie, roll, hang, wait, gad, and mill around/about. The actors were looked down on by the upper-classes as vagabonds, wastrels, prostitutes and sturdy beggars, and as such subject to imprisonment and hard-labour. “I see she’s going around with that boy again”. Here we suspect that “that boy” is not someone who you would like your daughter to go about with, the inference is tacit, yet is obvious when one hears the words spoken because the inflection of the voice makes it so. This is one of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, that the profoundly deaf native speakers have difficulties with phrasal verbs. If they cannot hear the subtleties of the voice, they are only left with the words, which confound the listener as they confound the foreign student. The public was entertained by the antics of the players who often poked fun at people in the audience as well as within their own group of actors, as still happens today at many morris dancing events. Two of the most important protagonists of these ancient plays remain with us in the morris dancing teams, the fool and the hobby-horse. The fool, armed with an inflated pig’s bladder on a stick would hit victims, selected at random from the audience (knock sb/sth around/about). Slap means to hit with the open hand to cause a painful stinging sensation but little or no damage. The fool would hit people with a slapstick, a device made of wood with a loose, hinged section. When a blow is delivered with the stick it produces a loud crack that gives the spectator the impression that the blow was hard, violent and obviously painful, whereas the exact opposite is true. From this comes the expression “slapstick comedy”. The fool would lark around/about (lark being a derivative of laik, meaning to play or not do work, and is still commonly used in many parts of northern England). The antics of the fool appealed to the coarser nature of the crowd with references to arse, bum, fart, piss, bugger and fuck. He may even poke, sniff, scratch, touching his victim in a genuine or simulated sexual manner in order to get cheap laughs from the victims friends and other spectators, who then fall or roll about/around laughing. Sniffing around the crowd, the clown could show delight at some apparent perfume and conjure flowers the clothing of a victim of his attentions, or showing disgust at some apparent stench, produce a dead rat, cheers and laughs all round. It is no coincidence that today’s morris dancers delight the crowds by performing in the street, but always outside a pub or country inn. The dancing appears to have only two reasons for being. One is to dance to entertain and the other is to spend the money collected from the bystanders on alcoholic drink, such as beer or cider and hence the chosen venue being outside the pub. When drinking a toast to the health of the company these days, glasses are raised and gently tapped together. Medieval revellers under the influence of large amounts of alcohol were less refined, clashing their metal tankards together so that beer or wine sloshed (spilled) out of their drinking vessels and onto the table or floor. To slosh money around/about, now means to have money to waste, as in the wasted beer that is spilled. Horse around/about comes from the hobby-horse, a regular protagonist in mummer’s plays and a common feature in many morris teams. For more information go to The hobby-horse capering around could quite easily knock over a small child or bump into one of the spectators, thus meaning to behave in a way that is both careless and potentially dangerous. Our journey into the world of phrasal verbs has taken us down many thorny paths, with more than a few dead-ends. We have not been able to accommodate each and every verb that has been decided by consensus of opinion to be a phrasal verb, but this can be explained by the fact that the language is evolving. Many phrasal verbs are modern, such as “log on”, “switch off” etc. and have nothing to do with the medieval world, yet we have identified a common base for some modern phrasal verbs within the context of our explanation. So if you can wait a little while until our publication is available, hold on, you can look forward to an easier way to master these demons and learn a little history at the same time. We are forging ahead and if our plans do not fall through, you should be able to count on seeing it in February. For further information contact me at

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by Kvinchuca (talkcontribs) 20:23, 23 December 2005 (UTC)

more phrasal verbs decoded, At explained[edit]

At explained

The particle at appears to be the goal or objective of opportunists who attempt to take advantage whenever possible. Some verbs show an endeavour to do something by the subject but we do not know if the attempt was successful or the goal was attained. The objects of some verbs are close to the subject, being within arms reach or at a distance that can be covered by a leap. The particle is always followed by the accusative which denotes the importance of the object, or goal. Because there is much effort in trying to accomplish something but no evidence of it being successful, there is a feeling that the subject is somebody who has not quite mastered the art of his craft, rather like an apprentice. So we can think of at as being more to do with adolescents rather than more mature and proficient adults. There is much rough and tumble, grabbing, grasping, snatching, with sudden attacking, leaping, jumping, flinging, throwing, and flying at the target or objective, verbs that are aggressive in nature. Therefore who are these aggressive apprentices? During the Middle Ages, vassals, who were people who swore allegiance to a nobleman in return for land, would send their sons to the lord’s castle at the age of seven, where they lived as a page to the noble family, this being the first stage in their preparation to be a knight. For the next seven years, the child was brought up by the women of the household, helping in the kitchens, serving at the table and being taught how to behave. At fourteen the page became an esquire. During the next seven years, the esquire (or squire) was educated in all aspects of combat and warfare becoming a master of fighting on foot or on horseback proficient in the use of sword and shield, mace, axe and lance. Training daily with these weapons, the young adolescent developed a strong physique and stamina. When not training for combat his duties were to serve his knight, look after the knight's armour and weapons and accompany him to tournaments acting as the knight’s personal assistant. Though strong and formidable combatants, they were still adolescents and had all the traits of juvenile behaviour. Groups of these young men who accompanied their knights to the tournaments very often became a source of trouble, picking fights with the esquires of other knights, or even fighting amongst themselves. The tournaments were very popular and drew large crowds, knights and esquires from all parts of the country and even abroad. These juveniles were a serious problem, clashes between opposing groups resulted in death and injury, not only amongst themselves but also amongst the local populace. The breakdown of law and order, pillaging, raping and deaths were so common, that in 1260 King Richard the First issued the Statute of Arms. This was a law that restricted any knight attending a tournament to a maximum of three squires. The squires were required by law to wear the badge of their knight, so that they could be identified. The statute also declared that: “”…no Knight or Esquire serving at the Tournament, shall bear a sword pointed, or Dagger pointed, or Staff or Mace, but only a broad sword for tourneying”. Failing to obey the statute meant the forfeiture of horse and harness, arms and armour and three or more years in the dungeon. This shows how problematic and out of control these young men were; anyone familiar with the world of football hooligans will see exactly what we are talking about. There are several verbs meaning to ‘suddenly attack’. To come at sb means to move in the direction of sb as if to attack them as in fly at sb, go at sb. There are attempts to take hold of something, the movement is sudden, as if on impulse, eg. to grab, grasp leap, snatch, and throw. These suggest a melee, rather like a scrum in the game of rugby and the particle with several verbs are synonymous with the verb ‘to tackle’ as in rugby (which is the action of one player throwing himself at an opposite team member who has got the ball, his arms locked around the legs, in order to bring him to the ground). Throw yourself at sth, and go at sth, meaning to start to do sth such as a job or difficult task, working hard to do it and getting the job finished. There is opportunism, as in jump at sth, leap at sth and snatch at sth , meaning to accept an opportunity with enthusiasm. To stick at sth meaning to work in a determined way, tackling the problem until it has been overcome. Although there is an element of surprise, the surprise is always on the part of the victim, who has been assessed as a possible easy target by the attacker. Examples are look at sth meaning to closely examine, think or consider about sth, and to put sth at sth, meaning to estimate the age or weight etc. of sth. In this case the ‘sth’ is the target to be attacked. After looking at and putting sth at sth, the attacker can decide whether the target or victim will be easily overcome. If, because of the age, weight, size and probable fighting ability of the examined target is rather too much of a challenge, the young squire would go in search of an easier target. The knight was a mature and accomplished suitor, with refined powers of seduction, the esquire however was a juvenile lacking in his master’s polished skills of love. Therefore we have fling and throw oneself at sb, a clumsy attempt at seduction, with the result that other squires would laugh at him. A successful squire who managed to attract his desired maiden, could have received a knowing look from a fellow esquire, who would wink at his advances. Likewise, to wink at sth is to show acknowledgement of sth that sb has done that is illegal, or for the squire, perhaps a breach of the code of chivalry. The squire could be criticised for behaving badly by his knight who would talk at him, or level sth at him, thus giving the squire a cause to worry at sth, being anxious or preoccupied about some problem or the future outcome of a passed misdemeanour. Play, to act as if you are, or to pretend to be, when used with at suggests the horse-play of the squires in a rough and tumble, but without any serious intent to cause injury. With peck, pick and sniff at sth, we can see the young squire who is accustomed to eating fine food from his master’s table, showing distaste at food not cooked to his liking.

kevin chuca

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by Kvinchuca (talkcontribs) 21:31, 23 December 2005 (UTC)

Hi, Kevin and Serapio, ah yes, the problem of the phrasal verb. This article does try to make it clear in the first two sections (Idiomatic or literal verb-particle constructions) and (Grammar in literal verb-particle construction).
Some grammarians claim that only the figurative (that is the idiomatic or metaphorical) usage should be called phrasal verb. That is what it is all about, namely whether you include an idiomatic phrase such as "to go about it in the right way" which is a metaphor, as nobody imagines that you are actually walking about or around the job you are trying to do; or whether also include a literal statement such as "I am going across the road". Some teachers, grammarians and linguists adopt the pure definition of only idiomatic usage, as in the first example, and some include the literal verb + (uninflected) particle/prefix as the second example indicates. Transitive or intransitive really has little to do with it.
I don't think I need to refer to any websites which only advocate idiomatic usage as you seem to be referring mainly to the original definition of phrasal verb, namely the idiomatic one anyway, I feel you need only to look at some of the first samples I "came across", to give you an idea just how many experts include the purely literary verb-particle construction.
Here are some: and
and Dieter Simon 01:02, 24 December 2005 (UTC)
One more thing, as also explained in the article, idiomatic phrasal verbs are the ones which have to be learned by heart, irrespective of their actual form, as their parts cannot be understood by themselves or together, while literal verbs + particle/prefix have to be analysed as to whether their parts can be understood by themselves or together. Dieter Simon 01:16, 24 December 2005 (UTC)
The verbs I see called phrasal verbs on those sites are either non-literal or separable (permitting particle movement), and the definitions include idiomaticity/unanalyzability. What I meant by transitivity is that if the particle is transitive (i.e. it it is a true preposition) then while it can be a phrasal verb, it isn't a verb-partical construction.

Serapio 21:33, 28 April 2006 (UTC)

The placement of the object in phrasal verbs[edit]

The various forms of phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs can be transitive or intransitive, separable or inseparable. The object or accusative can in the cases of separable phrasal verbs be placed before or after the particle. With inseparable phrases, the object/accusative is fixed and its position either before or after the particle cannot be changed by the speaker. Our analysis has shown that the position of the object/accusative assigns an importance, diminished importance, or a complete lack of importance from the speakers point of view. If the particle is followed by the object/accusative then the importance is clearly shown. If the object/accusative precedes the particle it has a diminished or lack of importance. If the object/accusative can go before or after the particle, as is the case in separable phrases, then the importance assigned to it is decided by position the speaker places it. The separable phrases are commonly described as having the same meaning, no matter where the object/accusative is placed, either before or after the particle and in general this may be true, however there is a difference, so small as to be unnoticed. There nevertheless occasions when the object/accusative sounds to be misplaced to the ears of a native speaker. There are in many phrases a word order that is generally accepted to be the norm, and a diversion from this order would immediately be noticed by a native speaker and not necessarily by a non-native. For example, the colours of the Union Jack (the British national flag), are red, white and blue. If somebody described them as blue red and white, they are technically correct, but the native speaker would sense an uncomfortable feeling that the speaker was not quite right, or had spoken incorrectly.

There are many example of this: bacon and eggs (correct) eggs and bacon (uncomfortable). Black and white films (correct) white and black films (uncomfortable). Cup and saucer (correct) saucer and cup (uncomfortable).

Some of this is purely convention, while some of it conveys some element of non-specificity. Grandma might say "hand me your cup and saucer" - indicating she wants those items and any accoutrements with them such as a spool, while another speaker might say "pass me your saucer and cup" to indicate only the specific objects; a speaker might order "bacon and eggs" but when asked what they are eating respond "eggs and bacon" (particularly among people who regularly consume "sausage, eggs and bacon").
On the other hand, "Black and white film" is an example of what is essentially a compound proper noun like "pickup truck" or "sports car", a fact often obscured by the presence of the "a" word. Kfsone 05:53, 29 April 2007 (UTC)

There is nothing in English grammar that rules the order of these words and to a non-native speaker the fact that all the information is there, is all that matters, but the uncomfortable sensation felt by the native demonstrates that something very subtle is going on. The same applies to the separable phrasal verbs. In most instances the subtle difference is unnoticed even by the native, yet in speaking the word order used demonstrates a particular importance or diminished importance that has subconsciously been attached by the speaker. For example. “that man is chatting my girl-friend up”, in this phrase, I have given a diminished importance to my “girl-friend” and there is a subtle sense of indifference to the situation. Whereas “that man is chatting up my girl-friend”, in this phrase ‘my girl-friend’ is after the particle and is subtly stressed. “My girl-friend” is shown to have more importance in this phrase and there is an implied sense of indignation as opposed to indifference.

When we use a pronoun instead of naming the object/accusative, the pronoun always goes before the particle. The reason being that once the object has been named the attached importance to the person or thing is slightly diminished, but the importance can be restated by the repetition of the name. For example, “Is your girl-friend called Sarah?” “Yes why?” “Well, that man is chatting her up ”. “Bloody hell, you’re right, he’s chatting up my Sarah”. Here the indignation is obvious because of the naming of the girl a second time. If the phrase was “yes he’s chatting her up” the indignation felt by the speaker and heard by the listener would depend on the inflection of the voice, whereas in “my Sarah”, there is no doubt how the speaker feels.

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by Kvinchuca (talkcontribs) 02:54, 9 April 2006 (UTC)

Let down![edit]

As you keep insisting it this talk page, I know it's not easy to define phrasal verbs to the layman. But this article is utterly confusing, right from the start. The reader doesn't get what a phrasal verb is from the introduction (some simple examples should help A LOT), and after that it looks like a scholarly discussion about the nature of phrasal verbs. The examples are the worse, since you don't clarify what part of them actually IS a phrasal verb!!

It's lovely that you discuss so passionately phrasal verbs in this talk page, but for goodness' sakes, try to make this article (and any other you attempt to make) accessible to everyone! There HAS to be an easier way to define Phrasal verbs! Kreachure 19:46, 1 May 2006 (UTC)


The article in Simple English is much easier to understand. I think that means this article is unnecessarily difficult. John 22:06, 5 June 2006 (UTC)

I agree it is easier to understand, and this article needs some serious reworking. But note that the Simple English article also messes up the distinction between phrasal verbs and normal verb + preposition, calling "come into" a phrasal verb but not using it in one of the "come into" phrasal verb senses [1]. The trouble is that for it's a somewhat subtle distinction. Any ESL teachers out there willing to do a rewrite? -- Serapio 02:16, 6 June 2006 (UTC)

Need a definition[edit]

The very beginning of the article, where the phrasal verb is defined, refers to an "uninflected" preposition, adverb, or adverbial particle. As I understand inflectional morphology, it is never applied to any of these categories of word in English. What is meant by "uninflected," here, if it is not redundant? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 06:28, 26 January 2007 (UTC).

You have a good point actually, but help is at hand. There is an article uninflected word which will explain all you want to know, I am sure. Dieter Simon 23:33, 27 January 2007 (UTC) Dieter Simon 01:34, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

Confusing? Yes.[edit]

OK so it seems that we've created a confusing article. Instead of arguing about definitions we should be simplifying this article for those who will actually read it. Some of us believe that phrasal verbs are only those which portray an idiomatic and unobvious meaning while many people accept that a phrasal verb can be literal or non-literal. Many coursebooks are similarly confused. Personally I would accept items like '"take out" the trash' (obvious meaning) as being a phrasal verb just as I would accept that 'He recently "gave up" smoking' (less obvious meaning) as a phrasal verb also. Xanucia 22:45, 3 April 2007 (UTC)

Particle adverbs and modifying adverbs and where they are positioned[edit]

From the article:

When modifying adverbs are used alongside particle adverbs intransitively (as particle adverbs usually are), the adverbs can appear in any verb/particle/adverb positions:
  • “He unhappily looked round”.
  • “He looked unhappily round”.
  • “He looked round unhappily”.

It seems that not all three forms work in all cases. Consider: He quickly let go, he let quickly go, he let go quickly. I find that the looked unhappily form seems incorrect. Similarly, light switch operation doesn't work in the first case: he off switched the light, he switched off the light, he switched the light off.

Kfsone 06:06, 29 April 2007 (UTC)

"Let go" is indeed the infinitival form of the verb "to go", yes , it can form a phrasal verb as in this case. The example you quote: "he off switched the light" has never been mentioned at all, the correct usages would have been: "he switched the light off", "he switched off the light", or the third version, "he switched it off". You are introducing difficulties where there are none.
While "unhappily" is the modifying adverb for the verb "look", you can indeed use it in all the three ways mentioned. You may have a preferred idiosyncratic way of expressing yourself, and of course it depends on which of the words in the sentence you want to stress, but as such all three versions are perfectly alright. Don't let the fact throw you, that the the meaning might be somewhat unusual. If you wanted to stress the word "unhappily" when being interrogated, a questioner's "he looked unhappily round the room"? could indeed be answered with "he looked unhappily round", with the stress on "unhappily". We are talking about the many ways English may be used correctly. Dieter Simon 11:33, 30 April 2007 (UTC)

Idiomatic usage[edit]

It is precisely idiomatic usage which is so important as far as phrasal verbs are concerned. Probably a good half of all phrasal verbs are used idiomatically, how you can even think of separating out those from them rest I don't understand. Isn't that what the section on "Idiomatic Usage" is all about? The rest is taken care of by the section "Direct and indirect objects" because that is precisely what you have here: "to beat (verb) a path (direct object) to (preposition) someone's door (indirect object)". Idioms are part of the story of phrasal verbs. Dieter Simon (talk) 00:54, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Oops, sorry, I missed this post. See below for my comments. --DrHacky (talk) 13:06, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

I see a great deal of confusion here between phrasal verbs and idioms. Mention of idioms should be reduced or even removed. The given example "to let the cat out of the bag" is an idiom that merely happens to contain a phrasal verb; it would retain its meaning if the Germanic phrasal verb "to let out" were replaced by a Latinate equivalent, e.g. "to release". Anyone who knows German and at least one Romance or Slavic language knows that most phrasal verbs are like separable German verbs, and equivalent to prefixed latinate or Slavic verbs (e.g. describe, subscribe, prescribe, proscribe, inscribe). Idioms are a whole different ball of wax (yes, that was an idiom). I think the confusion is arising because phrasal verbs are Germanic, and inherently folksy in comparison with their elevated Latinate equivalents. Simplulo (talk) 01:40, 29 February 2012 (UTC)

"To beat a path to someone's door"[edit]

Another, but much more difficult, example is “to beat a path to someone’s door.”
an idiomatic phrasal verb meaning “to go and see someone frequently and in large numbers, because the person in demand represents someone well-known, successful and/or famous, and it is important that those calling at the door are able to speak to the person".
“The reporters were beating a path to the celebrity’s door.”

The above section has been the focus of a recently brewing edit war.

I agree that it's an idiomatic phrase, but dispute that it is a phrasal verb. Saying it's a phrasal verb means that "to beat to" is a phrasal verb with its own meaning which is unmodified by whatever noun it is associated with. However "beat a path to one's door" is a unique phrase which can not substitute a different noun for "path" without changing the meaning or making it meaningless, as the idiom page well-explains; i.e.- If it were a phrasal verb, "beat a road", "beat a highway" or "beat a passage to" would all be valid constructions, in the same way that "pick up a language", "pick up some tips", "pick up the basics" and "pick up a new skill" are valid constructions of "pick up". However, "beat a path to one's door" is the only used form of the idiom, so it doesn't fit the definition of phrasal verb given in the lead, being "verb + preposition(s)/adverb(s)".

That's my take on it, but I'm willing to concede if it can be backed up with a reference from a dictionary of phrasal verbs. There are many other examples of idiomatic phrasal verbs which could be included if the section in question needs expanding- "pick up", with a variety of meanings, "to (be) put out", or "work out" are a few that come to mind. --DrHacky (talk) 13:02, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

The real problem, of course, is that of the direct object (as I have already mentioned). Wherever you have a combination of a phrasal verb (in this case “to beat to”) with a direct object, it looks at first sight as though no phrasal verb is present. Although “to beat to” as a phrasal verb does not exist on its own, it certainly does in combination with a direct object (“a path”). There is actually another “to beat to” phrasal verb construction, that of “the boy beat his sister to the finishing line” (“pipped her at the post”). So advice to English learners: look for the phrasal verb in complicated sentences, it may be with a direct object.
As for “to beat a path to someone’s door”, as an idiom it is far from unique. Rosemary Courtney mentions in her introduction the third type of phrasal verb entries, that of idioms, including “(to) let the cat out of the bag”. What about other idioms such as “to add insult to injury”, “to add fuel to the flames”, “to leave someone in the lurch”, or “to scare someone to death”? They all have a direct object combined with a phrasal verb.
We should not be worried that the actual original meaning of the combination of the various parts of a phrasal verb sentence is now difficult to establish. In “beat the path”, for example, the more times feet run across the same soil or grass, the more likely it becomes that a firm grassless path is the result. However, what we should consider, is that all the idioms started out in the same way as any ordinary everyday statement. The original meaning of to “beat a path” was to “lay a path”, as may be seen in any dictionary. To separate this type of idiom (verb + direct object + adverb/preposition + indirect object) from modern turns of phrase is quite preposterous. Phrases such as “to raze a building to the ground”, “to reach the city by the next day”, “to buy vegetables by the kilo”, or “to leave one’s purse in the shop” (the numbers of examples are infinite), one day may well turn into idioms themselves.
So, I am going to revert the latest and re-enter the example. Dieter Simon 01:57, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
The sequence "beat a path to" cannot be a phrasal verb according to the definition given at the beginning of the article (because it contains a noun). Neither can "beat to" (not a "complete semantic unit"). The fact that "door" is also part of the expression moves this example clearly out of the scope of this article, and into more general idiom territory. Moreover, the disputed text is not written in an encyclopedic style: "much more difficult" (according to what source?), where did the quoted definition come from? (And why do you believe that beating the path is idiomatic, but that calling at the door is literal?). And finally, in my opinion, the main purpose of this article is not to give advice to learners of English, and so providing more and more complicated examples is not useful. If you are worried that people might not realized that a phrasal verb can be split up by a direct object, this issue is already covered in another section of the article (Direct and Indirect objects).
In language and grammar articles, the rules about OR and citing sources can be somewhat relaxed, as long as other editors are watching, and there is consensus. But in cases of dispute, reliable sources must be provided before re-introducing the material in question. (For example, the Oxford dictionary of phrasal verbs does not include this idiom among its 12 phrasal verbs involving beat.) CapnPrep 12:55, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
Once again I have reintroduced previous material and have added a direct citation of the original source of the points I have been making. Although dictionaries are not normally cited, this being a dictionary of actual phrasal verbs must surely be taken into account. As well as including further examples of idioms as constructed by verb + direct objects + preposition/adverb + indirect object, part of the introduction has been included. If you criticise this inclusion you will have to criticise the source first, which you are at liberty to do, but you need to say so.
I had mentioned and agreed that "to beat to" is not a complete semantic unit. However, it becomes a semantic unit, namely that of a phrasal verb sentence in that it uses the verb plus the preposition and or adverb (which modifies the indirect object). What else would the preposition or adverb combine with but a verb in these examples. They belong with the verb whether we like or not. I hope I have made my reasons somewhat clearer now. Dieter Simon 15:37, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
There is nothing wrong with the source: it states clearly that these examples are not themselves phrasal verbs, but idioms containing phrasal verbs. Your use of the phrase "idiomatic phrasal verb" a few sentences later is not justified by this source. And aren't the examples taken directly from Longman good enough to illustrate your point? Why insist on including a "much more difficult elsewhere more rarely-seen" example with a definition that you apparently made up yourself? If I say "As soon as she heard the news, she beat a path to my door to confront me about it", it means that she came quickly and purposefully: not frequently, not in large numbers, not to see someone well-known, successful and/or famous, and of course there may be no actual door involved. CapnPrep 15:55, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

Ok, have removed redundant "to beat a path", and have fixed the source. Article looks good now. Well done. Dieter Simon 18:07, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

Sorry, but I'm afraid I still don't agree.
Other idioms show a verb + direct object + preposition/adverb + indirect object construction:
In her introduction to "Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, What this dictionary contains", Rosemary Courtney includes as a third category
3. Idioms which are formed from phrasal verbs, such as let the cat out of the bag. These idioms are printed in heavy type. Idioms have a meaning which is different to the meaning of the single words, and usually have a fixed word order.[3]
Courtney then cites among many other examples in the dictionary such phrases as "to add insult to injury", "to add fuel to the flames", "to leave someone in the lurch", "to scare someone out of their wits", etc.
I have a couple of issues with this inclusion. First, it says "other idioms", which is a non-sequitur as the topic of discussion is idiomatic usage of phrasal verbs, not idioms. The examples given later are all idioms, which contain arguable phrasal verbs, but which would nonetheless be better suited to a section in the Idioms article, "Idioms containing phrasal verbs". Adding them here does little to explain idiomatic phrasal verbs, of which we currently have only one example.
Further, the method of quotation and the text quoted is quite awkward. It is not a definition per se, but the key to the dictionary. A discussion of this type of idiom and its relevance would be more appropriate, not just a passing note on how they are indicated in the dictionary.
Its sentences may, however, contain direct and indirect objects in addition to the phrasal verb.
This sentence gives little information, and is also awkwardly written with "Its sentences". Saying that a sentence may contain a direct and indirect object because it has a phrasal verb says no more than "Some sentences with verbs have direct objects, indirect objects or no objects."
Identification of phrasal verbs as transitive or intransitive, separable or inseparable, is important and is somewhat addressed in the body of the article, but this sentence in the lede doesn't help the understanding of that issue. Actually, it's possible that some of the discussion of such identification has been made less clear with CapnPrep's recent restructure, and I would argue for the reintroduction of those headings. Cheers,--DrHacky (talk) 13:59, 10 December 2007 (UTC)
From the very beginning of this discussion you had a problem with the inclusion of the use of verb + direct object, etc. construction in a discussion on phrasal verbs. The sheer fact that several sources have been included which obviously count among phrasal verb examples precisely these verb + indirect object phrases doesn't seem to matter to you. In the introductory section itself a source has been included [[2]] which in an article on "Phrasal verbs as idioms", refers to "transitive phrases that can take a direct object", which you seem to have ignored. OK, a few style changes may be necessary in the article text, but please don't tell me that direct object phrasal verbs should not be included. Examples such as this belong to an article on phrasal verbs, whether you like it or not. By all means, include it in an "Idiom" article as well, but it certainly belongs to this article. If you have a problem with it perhaps you should turn to the writers of the sources cited, and discuss it with them. All I have done is cite what they have said, which is as it should be. Dieter Simon (talk) 02:18, 11 December 2007 (UTC)


I took out most of the reference to the "transitive" vs "intransitive", "separable" vs "inseparable" distinctions, because these terms are neither useful nor accurate for describing phrasal verbs (and the sources that I have consulted do not use them). In a verb-particle combination, it is important to know if the verb takes an object and if the particle takes an object; labeling the entire phrasal verb "transitive" or "intransitive" is inadequate and confusing, because in fact there are 4 possibilities. For "separability", there are also more than two options, and sources that call every phrasal verb either separable or inseparable are (implicitly) assuming particular definitions of these terms in order to cover all cases. That said, since the terminology is used in some of the literature (for learners of English, for example) we might discuss if and how it can be treated in the article. CapnPrep (talk) 11:33, 11 December 2007 (UTC)

Yes, agreed, but the trouble is that if there is a phrasal verb + direct object phrase, it does occur in transitive instances. Yes, I agree too, that most of the citations in articles (there are over a thousand in Yahoo alone, some of which may be discounted as quotes from Wiki sources) refer to teaching learners. However, who are we to disallow these? Aren't we writing an encyclopaedia rather than a learned treatise addressed to peers already well-versed in the intricacies of linguistics? Perhaps the association of transitive verb and direct object might be made clearer? However, I don't think it should be ignored, rephrased but not ignored. Dieter Simon (talk) 12:22, 11 December 2007 (UTC)
This illustrates what I was saying about using apparently familiar terms without providing explicit definitions of how they are applied specifically to phrasal verbs. When you say "phrasal verb + direct object", I don't know for sure what that means (look up + an old friend, look at + an old painting, or both of these?). I also don't understand what "occur in transitive instances" means. CapnPrep (talk) 16:31, 11 December 2007 (UTC)
All I meant was we can't really ignore instances when a someone on a website (often a university site) is explaining phrasal verbs taking the direct object. In the BBC World Service website the phrasal verb with adverb or preposition is being discussed which takes a direct object [[3]]
In the UHV site under the heading "Phrasal verbs as idioms" is stated "transitive phrases are those that can take a direct object", etc.[[4]]. All I am saying is that we really have to come to terms with these efforts being made out there. Sources in Wikipedia are the be all and end all, and when you look at these sources they have to be taken into account. As for "using apparently familiar terms without providing explicit definitions of how they are applied specifically...", you changed the original lay-out. Wouldn't it have been up to you supply these definitions in their new context? The trouble with these direct object phrases is that neither you yourself nor DrHacky are happy with them, but they are being taught out there. Just try "phrasal verb" "direct object" (with the quotation marks) on either Google or Yahoo, and see the results! We can't just insist on what we ourselves "know", we have to take account what others, for the most part respectable sources, teach. If we don't, then readers coming straight from those other sources will be confused. That's all I meant. Dieter Simon (talk) 01:15, 12 December 2007 (UTC)
I never said I had a problem with direct objects. (I still do have a problem with talking about idiomatic direct objects before giving examples of ordinary direct objects.) And I did supply definitions of "transitive" and "intransitive" for particle verbs, didn't I? I deliberately chose not to use these terms for prepositional verbs, because they are confusing and used inconsistently across sources. The previous version of the article said that walked across the bridge was "a transitive verb", presumably to distinguish it from walked across, intransitive. But then what is walked his dog across the bridge? So the solution I chose was to distinguish particle verbs and prepositional verbs, and then refer to the presence or absence of a direct object in both cases. This is what I "know" from sources like Quirk et al. and CGEL, but I can't cite them directly at the moment. Finally, I'm not sure what you mean by "indirect object" in the article. CapnPrep (talk) 13:25, 12 December 2007 (UTC)
Last question answered first: "indirect object"? What everybody else understands by it: "the grammatical object representing the secondary target of the verb in the action".
Courtney gives two examples:
  • "I put his bad temper down to his recent illness"
  • verb object adv. prep. object
  • "Can I help you to some more potatoes?
  • verb object prep object
She calls this kind of phrasal verb construction 'a transitive verb with two objects: a direct noun object and a noun indirect object.' The whole is under "Grammar codes for the phrasal verbs", and all of it is part of the dictionary for phrasal verbs. I can see that indirect objects might not need to be included in a discussion about the transitivity of direct objects, but there it is. Where there is one source which does so there will be others doing it too. As I said Google has over 4,560 websites which include 'indirect objects' in the articles about 'phrasal verbs'. I have only gone up three pages and they seemed well-wrought academical sites. Dieter Simon (talk) 00:25, 13 December 2007 (UTC)
This is not what everybody understands "indirect object" to mean; this is a notoriously vague label. Depending on the source, this term can refer to (i) a very specific kind of object (expressing the recipient with a verb of giving, corresponding to the dative argument in other languages) — this seems to be the definition assumed in the Object (grammar) article, (ii) any argument of the verb that is introduced by for or to, (iii) any NP that is introduced by any preposition whatsoever, etc. etc. Courtney is to be applying a wider definition than (I believe) most people would go along with. I think a better term would be "prepositional object" (this would also be more consistent with Object). CapnPrep (talk) 13:42, 13 December 2007 (UTC)

Well, who is to judge whether any of the sources likely to be cited are correct? If sources are relevant to the subject and respectable as to their derivation, which we must take into account, how can we say it is not worthy of inclusion? The Wikipedia way is to take sources which disagree and juxtapose both or all opinions within the encyclopaedia, give the opinions as they are being presented and let the readers make up their mind about them. That is the way to solve a controversy. In British libraries, you used to be able to ask them to request a book from other libraries if they didn't stock it themselves. Whether they still do, I don't know. The point I am making is that we shouldn't just ignore all those sources out there even if they don't agree with our opinions. Availability of the sources should never be a problem, neither should their citability. Dieter Simon (talk) 01:33, 14 December 2007 (UTC)

Copula "in love with"[edit]

Hmm, I was writing up some computer code to pull these from free text, and came across one that is not reviewed in this article: "I was IN LOVE WITH her" -- two prepositions, but the verb of interest is not "was" but is "love". linas (talk) 00:40, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

This is an idiomatic phrase and has only one verb "was", the infinitive being "to be in love with". "Love" in this phrase is not another verb but a noun which together with "to be" means "to love (someone) deeply". Does that help? Dieter Simon (talk) 23:55, 16 April 2008 (UTC)


It seems that if one has a set of sentences marked up in tree-bank style, then most of the various examples given in this page seem to fall into about a dozen different treebank patterns. For example:

"We LOOK AFTER our children."

(VP look (PP after (NP our children)))

The words can be pattern-matched to:

(VP accept (PP accept (NP reject)))

Anyone have experience with this? Are there published lists of these? At least shallowly, this seems to work well. I suspect there are crazy exceptions but I haven't really found many. linas (talk) 00:48, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

Talk down to[edit]

how would you classify "talk down to" (as in to speak to someone as if you were better than them)? particle verb with two particles, one transitive, one intransitive? Adavies42 (talk) 08:56, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

"To talk down to" consists of a verb + adverb (down) + preposition (to) as "down" in this instance modifies the verb "to talk" and "to" is the preposition before the following noun/pronoun. All adverbs and prepositions are uninflected words and therefore are grammatical particles, so, yes, "down" and "to" are particles. It is what their functions are rather than whether they are transitive/intransitive, that matters. (They are also called function words for that reason). Dieter Simon (talk) 22:23, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

Other Languages[edit]

I'm curious, Are there other languages that make use widespread, or even any, use of phrasal verbs? Perhaps we can list some of those languages? Cornince (talk) 05:06, 10 October 2008 (UTC)

Yes, phrasal verbs are certainly part of German grammar, for example. What I am not so sure about, however, is whether this warrants inclusion in an English Wikipedic section or article, as it would really be far to abstruse, to recognise the finer points in German types of phrasal verb.
You would have to be very fluent indeed to know a phrasal verb in German. True, verbs are also combined with adjectives/adverbs, such as "offenlassen", "stattfinden" etc, but are much more frequently combined with nouns such as: "in Vergessenheit geraten" - to be forgotten, which is literally translated " to get into forgottenness"; or "in Gebrauch nehmen" - to use, literally translated "to take into use". However, there are some which to an English speaker would also make sense, such as the phrase "unter Druck setzen" - literally "to put under pressure".
Honestly though, I don't think it would be appreciated if you created a section for the German equivalent of an already complicated enough English grammar concept, such as 'phrasal verb'. After attempting this in other German aspects of grammar in the past, I learnt a lesson when it was literally reverted as soon as I had created it as not being relevant. Dieter Simon (talk) 00:16, 11 October 2008 (UTC)
Phrasal verbs are very common in Swedish, and probably also in the other Nordic languages. Since the concept is not exclusively English, I think mentioning this is warranted. Gon-no-suke (talk) 08:42, 5 April 2011 (UTC)


Only the last of these is a phrasal verb; the others are proper verb + preposition. It seems to defeat the subject of the article. To "climb up", for example, is redundant; to "climb down" means something entirely different: that is a phrasal verb since "climb down" has a different meaning from "climb" (i.e. to retreat or back away, which again is a true phrasal verb). Simply tacking a preposition to a verb does not make it a phrasal verb; it's the act of making it a different verb: see for example Siamese twins (English language) (not a very good article, mostly a list). SimonTrew (talk) 15:43, 2 May 2009 (UTC)

This whole thing could be simplified[edit]

(Have moved the following from where it was placed at the top of the talk page):

This whole thing could be simplified if the article approach the issue more from a syntactician's perspective: If the verb and alleged preposition can be separated by the object, then the preposition is in fact a verb particle, and not a preposition. Prepositions are the things that are the heads of prepositional phrases. There is no such thing as a "Prepositional Verb," there are V + PP or Phrasal Verb/Particle Verb & Object constructions. (talk) 02:28, 12 September 2009 (UTC)

Be our guest and do exactly what you say should be done, but first try to register as an editor. We need people with fresh ideas. Dieter Simon (talk) 22:42, 12 September 2009 (UTC)


The subject of phrasal verbs is the single most complicated point in English for someone learning the language as a foreign language. [Second to it is the placement of the tonic accent and third to it is the use of antonym prefixes (mis-, dis-, in-, de-, non-, ...)]. I've had so much difficulty with it since I started learning the language some 20 years ago! This article made the whole thing clearer for me and I'm feeling so thankful to all those who contributed in making me feel less helpless and less (almost) desperate as to when and whether I'd finally get a grasp of phrasal verbs. So thank you. All the heated discussions with arguments being thrown back and forth do look petty in the light of what I've learnt in the past 20 minutes. Amenel (talk) 10:16, 21 July 2010 (UTC)

Distinguishing phrasal verb + object from verb + preposition/adverb[edit]

I have been seeking a means of distinguishing phrasal verb senses from non-phrasal verb senses for some time. Please see wikt:meet with for cases where the distinction does not seem clear to me or to those who produce dictionaries of phrasal verbs. Compare McGraw=Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrases with Merriam Webster online. DCDuring (talk) 12:08, 2 August 2010 (UTC)

Requiring the object phrase to precede the adverb[edit]

The article currently states:

Still other transitive particle verbs require the object to precede the adverb, even when the object is a long noun phrase:
   * They let the man through. (not *They let through the man.)
   * They let only the men wearing formal dress through.

I disagree with this example. Because of the substantial length of the object phrase, I would put the adverb directly after the core verb: "They let through only the men wearing formal dress." Can anyone find a better example than this? I'm skeptical that there is such an example where the mandatory word order is verb + object phrase + adverb. (talk) 20:49, 4 October 2010 (UTC)

I've replaced it with what seems to me to be a better example, to tell apart, along with a citation to it. (talk) 19:40, 6 October 2010 (UTC)
It seems to me that the ability of a "transitive" phrasal verb to accept a personal pronoun between the verb and the particle is a necessary condition to call a verb-particle combination a "phrasal verb". I'm not sure it is sufficient. DCDuring (talk) 12:37, 29 June 2012 (UTC)

Merger proposal[edit]

I'd like to propose that Multi-word verb be merged into Phrasal verb. The multi-word verb article is fairly newly created, and the topic would be better explained together with phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs etc. We could create redirects from Multi-word verb and Prepositional verb to Phrasal verb, which essentially serves as a main article about the family of those verbs, and devote a section explaining subtle differences in their definitions. --Whym (talk) 01:01, 25 November 2011 (UTC)

Major revision needed[edit]

This article is redundant, confusing, and it is pushing a specific point of view (with which I disagree). It lacks organization and does not present the phenomenon of phrasal verbs as a coherent whole. It reads as though it has been pieced together over a period of years by different authors without the oversight of a motivated editor who would ensure that the content is consistent. I am currently redoing the article entirely. The draft of the revision can be found at my sandbox here. Comments desired and and welcome! If no objections are expressed, I am going to replace the article with the new one in a couple of days. --Tjo3ya (talk) 15:09, 17 July 2012 (UTC)

The new article is an excellent exposition of one point of view of "phrasal verbs", and very well organised. However it presents only one point of view without giving an overview of other points of view (with both positive and negative reference). "With which I disagree" is a fair sign that the article is still not yet unbiased. One area of great debate is that of "non-compositionality", which is probably an error of analysis made partly by restricting the field too much, partly by over-applying structural criteria, and partly by failing to understand semantic properties of words (including particles/prepositions) and abstract~idiomatic extension thereof.

For example:

The car ran over the pedestrian.

1) the concept of "non-compositionality" does not take into account the semantics of "run" - it has a wide range of uses that indicates that the underlying meaning is not that of the action of moving fast where mammals (etc.) are concerned, but more globally of moving or causing movement in a particular manner -

The ship ran before the wind.

The blood ran copiously.

The engine is running roughly.

They ran the horses along the ridge.

Who's running the company?

He sat mesmeried watching the wheels running along the road.


2) road accidents have been around a lot longer than motorised transport - horses and horse-drawn vehicles "ran down" people in the old days.

3) "over" contrasts with other prepositions:

The car ran past the pedestrian.

The car ran through the crowd.

The car ran under the bridge.

The car ran down the hill.


4) the concept of "non-compositionality" also does not take into account the semantics of "over" and the possibilities of abstract extension:

The car ran over the finish line.

The car ran over the tracks.

The car ran over the speed bump.

The car ran over the pedestrian.


From these points of view, the argument "one cannot know what a given phrasal verb construction means based upon what the verb alone and/or the preposition and/or particle alone mean, as emphasized above" is a misanalysis. "Non-compositionality" as such therefore would not exist.

-- Roidhrigh 09:17, 17 August 2012.

Semantic units[edit]


Phrasal verbs are semantic units. Verb and preposition and/or particle form a single semantic unit. If they did not, there would be no motivation to acknowledge the special class of constructions, i.e. there would be no phrasal verbs to begin with. There would be verbs and adverbs and/or prepositions, but no phrasal verbs. The concept of non-compositionality provides a basis for understanding how phrasal verbs can exist as a separate class of lexical items.

Where we may agree is in the area of semantic shift. I think there are shades of non-compositionality. In your example, the meanings of run and over in run over have shifted to a minor degree only, but enough for a separate lexical item to be acknowledged. Running over a squirrel involves a clear mental picture for me, a picture that is beyond the meanings of run and over when they are understood in isolation. The shift in meaning is much greater with hang out. Arriving at the idiomatic meaning of hang out from the meanings of the two parts requires a significant jump. In such cases, the non-compositionality is great.

When there is no shift in meaning, I do not think one can really acknowledge a phrasal verb. Thus walk across in He walked across towards us does not earn the status of phrasal verb for me, because the meaning is compositional. In such cases, I would argue that across is an adverb, not a particle.

The explanation of phrasal verbs in terms of non-compositionality is one that I think most definitions of phrasal verbs agree with. These definitions tend to emphasize that phrasal verbs qualify as single syntactic and SEMANTIC units. A quick look in most any dictionary will verify this claim. In order to be viewed as a single semantic unit, the meaning of the parts when they appear together is necessarily non-compositional to at least a minor degree. --Tjo3ya (talk) 14:58, 17 August 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for getting back on this, Tjo3ya.

"Phrasal verbs are semantic units". - the term "unit" here is arguably misused. "Combinations" would be better. I.e. the two words (the verb) and the prepositon or particle (a better term for particle is "one word prepositional phrase") have separate meaning but work together.

Also, it is also arguable that there is no such thing as a "phrasal verb" - that the term itself is based originally on translation and dictionary linguistics - not on linguistic analysis. This would also be true for "separable verbs" for Germanic languages. It is perfectly logical for there to be only verbs, prepositons, adjuncts, etc. There is arguably no need for the term "pharasal verb" in that it would therefore have no linguistic or semantic reality.

In other words, I disagree that "phrasal verbs can exist as a separate class of lexical items" means that phrasal verbs MUST exist as a separate class of lexical items. This is not so. The concept in "running over a squirrel" is again simply another example of the standard use of "run" and "over" as a preposition. After all, it is not "run through the squirrel" or "around the squirrel" or "under the squirrel". It is "over the squirrel". "Over" shows that position of the movement in exactly the way "over" should.

Also, "hang out" may well be an abstract extension - however abstract extension does not mean that the meaning expressed is a distancing top being a separate item in itself. The concept of non-compositionality is invalid even for such cases. They are not single syntactic or semantic units nor are the meanings of the parts not "non-compositional". "Hang" is used in an idiomatic extension, while "out" is close to its core meaning. The idiomatic extension is also very easy to understand.

Roidhrigh, 17.40, 24 August 2012. "The explanation of phrasal verbs in terms of non-compositionality is one that most definitions of phrasal verbs agree with" - "agreeing" does not automatically mean independently assessed. If most definitions are simply quoting or otherwise referring to one or two original researchers, then that is in reality one or two researchers - not most.

However, more importantly, in the article that you are rewriting (quite rightly, I add), there are those references/remarks referring to alternative views. If you have removed alternative views, then you are automatically presenting a biased view.



I think there is solid disagreement between our views. You seem to be arguing that all meaning is compositional. I'm wondering if you would also see an idiom such as pull X's leg as fully compositional.

Where I can acknowledge that you have a point concerns the measure of noncompositionality. The example you discuss (run over) is mildly noncompositional (That example can be replaced by another that is more clearly noncompositional). In the scheme of things, I think we are dealing with a continuum. At the far left of the continuum, meaning is completely compositional, whereas at the far right of the continuum, meaning is completely noncompositional. I think all meaning starts out as compositional, but through time and metaphorical use, noncompositionality arises and is lexicalized.

But what does our disagreement mean for the article? I think the explanation in terms of noncompositionality in the article as it now stands is firmly supported by most any source. Googling "phrasal verb" and reading a bit verifies that this is so. In fact, I just did this. The following definition was at the top of the list:

A phrasal verb is a verb plus a preposition or adverb which creates a meaning different from the original verb.

Hence from my point of view, doing more to incorporate the type of analysis you prefer requires some good sources. If these sources exist and can be verified, then I am in favor of doing more to accommodate your points. --Tjo3ya (talk) 17:35, 24 August 2012 (UTC)


The solid disagreement centers on two core aspects – (non)compositionality and the definition (:: A phrasal verb is a verb plus a preposition or adverb which creates a meaning different from the original verb.).

I do indeed say that all meaning is compositional - in the case of clauses and phrases at least. Compounds and monomorphemic items and the like are another category, of course.

Even “pull x’s leg” is strictly speaking compositional. An idiom made of several words is an idiom that is at clause/phrase level that depends on the core meanings of the individual words within the clause/phrase. It is the imagery and the reference of “stop pulling my leg” with reference to the real-life imagery of pulling one’s leg that give it its force. Even though there is the higher level of “idiom” or “imagery” or (whatever one wants to call it) which goes beyond the individual words of the phrase/clause, the force of the idiom still retains its humour, or whatever feeling it arouses, through this link to the concrete.

I.e., such phrases are compositional, even at the idiomatic level.

As for the definition – it has been around a long time, and is inaccurate in that the preposition/adverb does not change the meaning of the verb from the original meaning. This misconception is partly based on “translation” linguistics and partly on the concept that “idiom” means having a completely different meaning (compositionality). The dangers of "time-honoured" descriptions is that they are based on theoretical approaches/analyses that may have since overridden them.

One work is Huddleston Rodney, Pullum Geoffrey K (2002); The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 2000  : phrasal verbs "do not form syntactic constituents" and that "it is for this reason that we do not use the term 'phrasal verb' in this grammar" (p. 274). There is much more than this, of course, however, the points they make are a valid alternative based on a variety of reasoning.

ROidhrigh 14.43 29th August 2012.

Roidhrigh, I will check the source you cite when I am in the library next (assuming the library here has it).
I don't think anyone would dispute the observation that phrasal verbs are not constituents. Indeed, that is what makes them interesting. If they were constituents, the problem of noncompositionality would mostly disappear, since one could state simply that the idiomatic meaning is assigned directly to a multi-word constituent.
While phrasal verbs often cannot be construed as syntactic constituents, they can be construed as catenae, as the article makes clear. Since they are catenae, the idiomatic meaning can be assigned directly to a concrete unit of syntax. Hence in this one regard, one can in fact argue after all that all meaning is compositional. One must, however, take the catena to be the fundamental unit of syntactic analysis and assume that meaning is assigned to catenae (which are not necessarily constituents).
Concerning Huddleston and Pullum's choice to avoid the term phrasal verb, I think that strategy is a loser. The term is so widespread that there is almost no hope of replacing it with something that might be more accurate. --Tjo3ya (talk) 17:23, 29 August 2012 (UTC)

Seeming illogicality?[edit]

"While phrasal verbs often cannot be construed as syntactic constituents, they can be construed as catenae, as the article makes clear. Since they are catenae, the idiomatic meaning can be assigned directly to a concrete unit of syntax. Hence in this one regard, one can in fact argue after all that all meaning is compositional. One must, however, take the catena to be the fundamental unit of syntactic analysis and assume that meaning is assigned to catenae (which are not necessarily constituents)"

There seems to be a certain lack of logic in this - or perhaps circular reasoning, in that it is seemingly putting syntax before vocabulary. That is to say, assigning idiomatic meaning to syntactic structures which in turn depends on the vocabulary within that structure being used idiomatically or not. "Catenae" may be fundamental units of syntactic analysis, but this does not mean that the meaning is assigned to the catenae, but rather to the words that are the constituents of the catenae. The concept of catenae also comes across as being based on restricted analysis, i.e. focusing solely on catenae of the type "X fed up with X" etc., without looking beyond these catenae. In other words, the examples of catenae in the article are too easily open to other analyses.

I may understand what you are getting at here. I think in the sense you desire, the meaning of phrasal verbs and indeed, of all idiosyncratic expressions in general is simply noncompositional. The verb/adjective fed in They are fed up with the proposal has close to no meaning at all; it certainly does NOT have the meaning that it has in a sentence such as The pig is fed. Only in combination with up (and with) does the entire expression gain solid meaning.

The meaning of all phrasal verbs, and indiosyncratic expressions made of words, including "fed up (with)" is compositional. Because structural linguistics (which includes catenae) becomes so focused on the tructure, it can lose track of the words within the structure-catena. There are various pieces of evidence that "fed up (with)" is compositional. One is the typical hand gestures that go with this, typically down-facing palm going up to or coming to the level of the top of the neck (or the like) - that is to say, the preposition (I prefer this to "particle", so pleaase bear with me for a moment there) "up" clearly has its "up" meaning for native speakers. Semantically speaking, as with all idioms, "fed up" has a clear relationship to the concrete also in core use. Something some people still do, but used to be much common two or three generations ago was feeding animals (pigs, geese, ducks, turkeys, etc.) up for slaughter, an this was done with scraps or grain or whatever : We fed the pig up with al the kitchen scraps - and being a large family, there were lots of scraps.

What the catena allows one to do is to say that idiosyncratic meanings do in fact correspond to concrete units of syntax. One assumes that the word combinations that form idioms, for instance, are stored as catenae in the lexicon. The words constituting an idiom such as fed, up, with form a catena.

That the catena-based analysis of idiosyncratic meaning is correct becomes apparent when one considers the word combinations that never form idiosyncratic expressions. Idioms that consist of a verb and the object of a preposition to the exclusion of the preposition do not exist; idioms that consist of a verb and a determiner to the exclusion of the noun do not exist; idioms that consist of one verb and another verb to the exclusion of an intervening third verb do not exist; idioms that consist of a subject NP and an object NP to the exclusion of the verb do not exist; etc. The words of idioms never correspond to these combinations because these combinations never form catenae. --Tjo3ya (talk) 15:14, 1 September 2012 (UTC)

"that strategy is a loser"? A very strange turn of phrase. I might mention that it is based on pretty strong and solid scholarly research, and not just Huddleston and Pullum - as you will see if you can get hold of the work. The essential analytical tool is to step back from English and to reanalyse it completely from the ground up, as it were. The concept of catenae seems to depart from the premise that phrasal verbs and particles are a given without looking at alternative analyses.

I will try to get to the library sometime in this coming week. I will take a look at what Huddleston and Pullum say. I will be surprised if they actually propose an analysis of phrasal verbs that is anything like what you are suggesting (i.e. all meaning is compositional). --Tjo3ya (talk) 15:37, 1 September 2012 (UTC)

An important point of departure for evidence for stating that "phrasal verbs" ("prepositional verbs", etc.) do not exist is questioning the status of "preposition" and "particle" and by detaching oneself from the Latin based concept that a preposition "must" come before its referent (be this overt or shifted), and reassessing the actual status of these words in English (and the other Germanic languages). The concept of prepositions as headwords is key to this reanalysis, which necessitates a reanalysis of the status of prepositional phrases; i.e. the status of the relationship between the three classes of "headword" n English, nominals, verbs and prepositions.

I do not fully understand your point here. I may agree that the term phrasal verb is not really a good name for the underlying phenomenon, because the term phrasal verb focuses on a single word, i.e. on the verb, whereas the actual construction consists of at least two words (verb and preposition and/or particle). It is, however, an established name for a type of construction that has to be acknowledged by anyone who has ever studied English syntax and grammar. Attempting to rename the phenomenon with a different term is unlikely to be successful precisely because the term phrasal verb appears in hundreds if not thousands of grammar books.

A preposition that follows its object is a postposition. English lacks postpositions, but of course postpositions exist in many other languages. --Tjo3ya (talk) 15:37, 1 September 2012 (UTC)

If there is a disagreement about whether meaning is always compositional in phrasal verbs, then simply put, it isn't. This isn't controversial - can you argue that idioms don't exist? Roidhrigh, do you disagree with this, or is your problem with the article something different? Do you think that there is too much emphasis on the concept of catenae or that statements about how they relate to meaning are too clear-cut and don't consider alternative theories of meaning?

Regarding the name of the article, the article suggests other names as well, like "compound verbs". The name is confusing because there isn't a phrase corresponding to a phrasal verb.

Can I suggest "A verbal idiom involving prepositional phrases and particles" as a definition? I'd also mention that particles have been categorized by some as prepositions. Count Truthstein (talk) 10:25, 2 September 2012 (UTC)

Compositionality of idioms (“Phrasal/Particle/Two-word [etc.] Verbs”)[edit]

fed up (with)

I may understand what you are getting at here. I think in the sense you desire, the meaning of phrasal verbs and indeed, of all idiosyncratic expressions in general is simply noncompositional. The verb/adjective fed in They are fed up with the proposal has close to no meaning at all; it certainly does NOT have the meaning that it has in a sentence such as The pig is fed. Only in combination with up (and with) does the entire expression gain solid meaning.

The meaning of all phrasal verbs, and indiosyncratic expressions made of words, including fed up (with) is compositional. Because structural linguistics (which includes catenae) becomes so focused on the structure/syntax, it can lose track of the words within the structure/syntax. There are various pieces of evidence that "fed up (with)" is compositional.

1) the typical hand gestures that go with it, typically down-facing palm going up to or coming to the level of the top of the neck (or the like) - that is to say, the preposition (I prefer "preposition" to "particle", so please bear with me here) up clearly has its up meaning for native speakers.
2) Semantically speaking, as with all idioms, fed up has a clear relationship to the concrete also in core use, which is: people feed animals (pigs, geese, ducks, turkeys, etc.) up for slaughter: We fed the pig up with all the kitchen scraps - and being a large family, there were lots of scraps. The witch was feeding up Hansel and Gretel with all sorts of delicious sweetmeats.
3) feed and eat (and gobble and other "eating" words) have extended semantic uses which indicate an underlying meaning of give X to Y for consumption or Y takes X for consumption. Examples are:
feed : feed-line (for fuel etc.), feed information to the press (They fed enough information to the press to keep the story alive), feed a fire with sticks to keep it burning, the children were feeding on every word with excitement dancing in their eyes.
eat : The press ate up every piece of information, they were eating into their finances
gobble : The story was so well set up that the press gobbled it up.
4) The preposition up [referring back to 1)] has its use of showing completion, as in the contrast between eat your dinner and eat your dinner up. The use of up as an adjunct (another loose term use here for convenience) with feed shows that the feeding is wholly completed, that the Y in give X to Y for consumption has reached that point of X no longer being necessary, needed, or wanted; that is to say, that Y has had enough and either can’t take anymore, or doesn’t want/need anymore. In other words, that Y has had enough.

This is the semantics of the idiomatic use of fed up (with), that Y has had enough. Essentially, a sentence like I am fed up with all this commotion is very close to I have had enough of all this commotion and I can’t take any more of this commotion. Fed (i.e. feed) has its normal meaning of give/take X for consumtion. In other words, fed up has an idiomatic use that is a clear extension of its core meaning.

Therefore, the catena cannot allow one to say that idiosyncratic meanings do in fact correspond to concrete units of syntax, as the idiosyncratic meaning (idiom) applies to the word, not the syntax. Catena simply show us in a different (and effective) way what linguistics, grammarians etc. have always known, however hazily or inelegantly, that words work together in phrases (NPs. VPs, etc.) in given linkings (hence catena/chain) to transfer a message from the giver to the receiver, both horizontally in strings as well as vertically/internally (depending on the theoreticaL background) within the phrase [whatever this might be], and that these undergo various transformations such as ellipsis, fronting, and so on.

Idiom, however, stems from the semantics of the words and their associations, not from the syntax.

Essentially (using a more old-fashioned break-up for lack of adequate software), the syntax of “phrasal verbs” is the same regardless of whether we are talking about concrete examples or idiomatic (idiosyncratic) examples:

Concrete use:

The pigs were fed up with corn
The pigs = subject NP
were = stative/identity (etc.) verb
fed = resultative adjective (the form of the verb that shows that we are now walking about the result of an action/activity) – here given X for consumption
up = an adjunct (in the form of a single-word prepositional phrase) that in this case shows that the activity came up to a certain point , i.e. completion.
with corn = a prepositional phrase that shows the instrument.

Abstract use:

I am fed up with all this.
I = subject NP
am = stative/identity (etc.) verb
fed = resultative adjective (the form of the verb that shows that we are now talking about the result of an action/activity) – here given X for consumption understood in an idiomatic way (i.e. semantic extension of the core meaning)
up = an adjunct (in the form of a single-word prepositional phrase) that in this case shows that the activity came up to a certain point , i.e. completion.
with this = a prepositional phrase that shows the instrument.

It is of central significance that the above two examples can be also used in the “opposite” sense; that is to say, The pigs were fed up with corn can be understood in the idiomatic sense as well, i.e. they had had enough of the corn and couldn’t take anymore, or didn’t want any more, just as I am fed up with this in the right context can be understood in its concrete meaning, i.e. referring to the food/fare that I am given for consumption so as to build up weight or the like.

The fact that such can be understood both idiomatically and concretely according to context is a fifth piece of evidence that the idiosyncratic use depends on the words and their contextual use, not the structure. Therefore, the concept of catenae is not applicable to explaining the special link between the verb and preposition/particle/adverb (etc.) if this analytical tool is only being applied to those cases where there is idiosyncratic use.

The word combinations that never form idiosyncratic expressions that mentioned do not present evidence of the catena-based analysis - because those combinations never form catenae [at least in the way put above]. What cannot be linked together in language cannot form meaning and therefore idiom cannot be derived from the meaning. Catenae are the elegant description of what can form linkages of communicative value in language, be this concrete or abstract.

Prepositional Phrases[edit]

Also, the above points are also part of the evidence that the term “phrasal verb” (or the others) is unnecessary (or, if you like, an unnecessary descriptive complication), and therefore does not need to be replaced, but rather “deposed”; that essentially, what we have are verbs that operate in conjunction with prepositional adjuncts (prepositional phrases/PPs) that act as any other adjunct in adding information to the clause as a whole or a certain part of the clause – but not to the verb itself.

To understand prepositions, we have to understand their function in organising and describing our world, which is an important part of their meaning – if not the most important part of their meaning. As Brala 2002:2 says, dictionaries or EFL materials don’t help :

’... the portrayal of prepositional semantics in bilingual (but also monolingual) dictionaries (and, more generally, EFL materials) is mostly inadequate, inaccurate, misleading and with mismatched examples ... This fact additionally contributes to the general chaos linked to prepositional usage, and frequently discourages learners from attempting to master the prepositional system of a foreign language (after a while, they tire of looking up unhelpful or even confusing entries).”
Prepositions in UK Monolingual learner’s dictionaries: Expanding on Lindstromberg’s Problems and Solutions. Applied Linguistics 23/1. 134–140.

This includes their use in “phrasal verbs”.

Core to the understanding of the status of what are commonly called prepositions and particles is that of the prepositional phrase and the status of the preposition as the head word of its phrase. As such it has similarities to verbs (having a prepositional subject (the figure/trajectory) and a prepositional object (the ground/location/landmark)). The preposition is as important a type of word as a nominal and a verb, and anything else that can be a head word.

As can also happen with VPs and NPs, a PP can also be a single word phrase:

He walked across the square :
he is the prepositional subject (a single word NP), the square is the prepositional object, across is the head word; walked is the verb (and is a single word VP)
He walked across :
This differs in that the prepositional phrase is a single-word PP, with an understood object that is clear from the context.

Based on this analysis, all "particles" are single word PPs consisting of a preposition with an understood object, whether they are used in a concrete or abstract sense.

The plane took off.

Here off has its use of away from the reference point, as in he set off on a journey, Jenny walked off angrily, a splinter group split off from the main party, run off, walk off, sprint off, etc. The reference point is the underlying prepositional object , the departure point (which itself can be a PP with the head word from).

In took off, it is the verb take that is used idiomatically, not the two words together as a “phrasal verb”. Take is irregular in being a reflexive verb. Essentially, the plane took off is the plane took itself off the ground.

Referring back to the need to step back from English so as to reanalyse the language “anew” and the issue to do with the Latin-based background of grammatical analysis. Prepositions in Latin have a somewhat different function than in English, as they either modify the semantics of the core case form, or the core verb in prefix form. Therefore, the application of the term "preposition" to the English words that are closest to these can create confusion as to what exactly is a preposition in English and what a preposition does (its role/function). In Latin, prepositions are “modifiers”, whereas in English, they are “specifiers”. Prepositions in English define concrete and abstract positional/etc. relationships, while in Latin they modify the concrete and abstract positional/etc. relationships established by the cases. It is this status of specifying/defining such relationships that give prepositions a much more important status in English – to the point of head word status, which also is why they can appear without their objects as single-word prepositional phrases.

Logically speaking, included in the scope of PP are those prepositions/adverbs such as inside, outside, upstream, and so on, which are by convention written together with no necessary reason for being so written - or for not being so written. There are also those certain constructions in English where the preposition does follow its object, and there should be termed "postpositions" – these are restricted, of course, though are much more common in Dutch and German. Namely, therefore, herewith, whereas, herein, wherein, etc. These latter are perhaps to be treated more as archaic retentions than active constructions.

Possibly also to included are the adjunct use of nominals such as back and home, historically speaking originally case-marked nominals (accusative, dative, etc.) which have lost their case marking through language change, but have not gained a preposition in compensation. Such could therefore be called preposition-less prepositional phrases.

PPs and “Phrasal Verbs”[edit]

The assumption that the “particle” in so-called “phrasal/prepositional/two-part (etc.) verbs” is an objectless-PP in its own right, and that adverbial nominals such as back and home are prepositional-less prepositional phrases, i.e. are adjuncts that show a positional relationship, allows an analysis where the status of the PP is an adjunct in the clause allows us to “jettison” terms such as “phrasal verb”, and therefore to avoid unnecessary complication, particularly for learners of English. It does raise the issue of what is a good term for PPs, of course, however for the moment PP is a useful short hand.

1) the PP, like adverbs (slowly, quickly, etc.) and other adjuncts (such as in a deliberate manner, etc.) to the S-V and S-V-O string, have positioning dependent on the importance to the core S-V unit. This necessitates a relook at what exactly an adverb or the like really is. In he walked slowly, slowly is thereby not an adverb that modifies the verb (the walking was slow), it is an adverb that shows that HIS walking was slow. Similarly in he looked up, up shows the direction he looked; it is not a particle or adverb to the verb, but a PP that adds specific positional information to he looked. In other words, the adverb/PP refers to the clause level, not the verb level, i.e. to the S-V.
2) As with adjectives with regard to their noun, the order of adjuncts with regard to the S-V nexus is significant; in a broad sense those that are more important to the core S-V are closer, and those less important are further away.

The man walked quickly to the door at the front of the house.

Here, quickly is core to the man’s walking – how he did the activity, followed by the goal of the activity (the door), followed by the positioning of the goal (at the front of the house).

Where “phrasal verbs” are concerned, as the PP is more important to the S-V nexus, it is normally close to this:

The man looked up at the fly on the ceiling”

Up shows the direction of the man’s looking (the S-V nexus), at the fly is the goal of the looking, followed by the positioning of the goal.

This is as valid for idioms as for non-idioms:

“I am fed up to the gills with all this”

Up shows the direction of the feeding (up to the point of not being able to take any more), to the gills is the goal of the feeding, followed by (in this case) the means used to get to that goal.

Again, the idiom is in the words, not the structure.

Where “phrasal verbs” are special – and only here – is the fact that the PP can come between the verb and its direct object, which is normally a pretty tight bond in English, and remains so in certain structures.

He looked the word up / He looked up the word

He looked it up / but not He looked up it

He took the book back to the shelf / He took back the book to the shelf

He took it back to the shelf / but not *He took back it to the shelf

Recognising that the link between the S and V is significant to the syntax of adjuncts allows the assumption of the link of the PP to the S-V nexus; that is to say, that it is a part of English syntax that the PP of “phrasal verbs” normally follows the S-V nexus in intransitive clauses, and can optionally do so in transitive clauses given certain criteria, which include the degree of “tightness” of the object to the verb in the V-O group, and further depends on context-dependent linking between the clause and preceding/following clauses or to the real-life context itself. The PP supplies core positional information to the subject’s action/activity/state, but remains a separate adjunct in its own right.

Hi Roidhrigh
I have not yet made it to the library to check out the source you cited further above. I still intend to do this.
As I stated above, I basically agree with your point that the term "phrasal verb" is not really a good match for the phenomenon that it is supposed to denote, but as I also stated above, I think trying to undo this fact by using another term is a fruitless endeavor. The term "phrasal verb" is so widespread that there is no hope of replacing it with something better. In this regard, I think we have to acknowledge that the terminology of linguistics arises over time, and it is therefore subject to inconsistencies and inaccuracies. That can't be changed, I believe. I think, rather, that we should accept the terminology as it is for the most part and try to make the best of it.

No - you misunderstand what I am saying - I am saying that no term is necessary, be this phrasal verb, prepositional verb, two-word verb, or whatever.

The word order facts associated with particle verbs are relatively easy to explain, I think, much easier than your discussion above suggests. Light constituents strive leftward, and heavy constituents rightward. The particle is comparatively light, so there is no surprise that it often precedes the heavier NP object. The trees in the article illustrate this analysis based on weight.

What I say is based on the semantics of the string and the significance of the order of the constituents. An emphasis on structural aspects ("light" and "heavy" constituents) does not adequately capture this, in that the tree shows this, but does not "explain" it as such. The sequencing of the constituents of the clause are significant, and "lightness" and "heaviness" is a result of this, not a cause. A better set of terms is needed to capture the importance of the constituents to the S-V core of the clause. Which of course also includes the description of how "mobile" a phrase can be where fronting and so on concern.

You continually produce examples of verb+adverb combinations that may or may not be viewed as phrasal verbs. To repeat my point from above, I think combinations such as look up and walk over need not be judged to be phrasal verb constructions. I think such examples can indeed be analyzed as simple verb-adverb combinations, whereby the meaning of the two together remains compositional. We probably do NOT disagree concerning such examples.

We do not disagree at all on such examples. However, my points are: (a) it is illogical to claim significance in a a syntactic sequencing/construction (such as a catena) which is exactly the same regardless of if the items are to be understood in a concrete way as opposed to an idiomatic way. The sequencing and semantic backgrounding of "The building blew up because of the explosion" and the "the papers blew up because of the wind" are exactly the same. (b) the link to the core meaning of items is open to native speakers, be this conscious or subconscious, and therefore the claim that the concept of "phrasal verb" only come into play when these are idioms (idiosyncratic) is both intuitively and demonstrably a lack of paying adequate descriptive attention to the role of metaphor, native speaker feeling, the additional items that can be used in conjunction with the "phrasal verb" - even the body language used to give the physical reinforcement of the phrasal verb - show that native speakers source the idiomatic meaning directly from the core meaning.

Examples like fed up with are, however, clearly non-compositional, and this is where we disagree. An observation that underlines the non-compositionalality of fed up wih concerns the extent to which the construction can be used productively. Fed is the past participle of feed. Based on your argument that all meaning is compositional, we would expect that fed up with should be freely combineable. It is, however, actually frozen; it cannot appear in another verb construction, e.g. *We fed them up with bullshit, *They are feeding me up with their drivel, etc. These sentences fail because fed up with is a frozen form; the idiomatic meaning is only available if fed is a participle/adjective. --Tjo3ya (talk) 18:53, 11 September 2012 (UTC)

What you are saying does not prove that "fed up with" and the like are non-compositional. All you are showing is that words and their interrelationships have restrictions. Neither does compositional entail "freely combineable"; compositional means combineable within the bounds of the semantics of the words and their logical relationships. An idiom being restricted to a subset of the basic string (here "fed" as an adjective derived from "feed" in "feed + up + with") is also perfectly normal, and still remains compositional. This is part of the world of meaning, be it concrete, abstract or idiomatic - and is part of the words, not of the structure. Idioms are also "special" in their restriction - their value of idioms would fail if they weren't by their semantic nature restricted.

"Fed up with" in itself is not a frozen form, it is restricted in focusing on the topic (subject) which is the underlying object of the metaphorical feeding tit the point of "no more", and on what is used to "metaphorically" feed the subject. A frozen form is like "in lieu of"(even though lieu can replaced : in stead of, in place of). That "fed up with" derives directly through metaphore from the core meanings of the individual words is not only suggested by the hand signs etc noted above, but also by the additional reinforcing phrases often found with it, such as:

I am fed up to the back teeth/to the teeth/to the gills/here (showing top of neck)/to overflowing with that.

These show that is native speaker feeling the meaning of metaphorical consumption of food (by this solid or liquid - such as milk) is very clear.

Using structural means to describe idiomatic meaning seems to be a little like using a blunt hammer approach. Catenae do show that "idiomatic phrasal verbs" operate in the same structural/syntactic ways as "literal phrasal verbs", but no more. Tree/Catenae/ etc. methodology deals with a subset of the language, namely structure; but should not be presented as a descriptive tool for whole language; whole language can only be described by using a variety of methods - and methods that are appropriate to each sub-part of language that is being described.

Hi Roidhrigh,
I concede your point about the extent to which fed up with is frozen or not. That is a weak argument at best for the noncompositionality argument.
The main point of disagreement between us remains, however: your claim is that all meaning is compositional. That claim seems far out to me. If it were true, we would not acknowledge phrasal verbs, idioms, or indeed, any sort idiosyncratic meaning at all. All meaning would be completely productive, i.e. freely combineable (within semantic restrictions), which it clearly is not. So if I may, please provide an answer to the following questions: How has it come to pass that phrasal verbs have come to be acknowledged in the first place? Why does this particular subcategory of verbs acknowledged by most anyone who has ever studied English grammar (and Germanic in general) exist? Why is it that object-less "prepositions" can appear with some verbs but not with others? Why does there seem to be a particularly close bond between certain verbs and these object-less "prepositions"?

1) first off, not all meaning is compositional. One such case are "monomorphemic" items, the meaning is part of the monomorphemic item, even when the monomorphemic item itself covers more than one semantic field, like a TAM suffix.

2) when words are used in sequence to convey meaning, then of course meaning is compositional.

3) it is not true that the term "phrasal verb" (and probably "separable verb") has existed for ever - as stated in the article, the term came into use in 1925. If you look at how the term is used, how EFL text books and so on introduce phrasal verbs, and so on, then one important reasoning for the use of such a term is "translation linguistics" (as in the article : many single-word English and Latinate words are translatable by a phrasal verb complex in English, therefore the logic is that the phrasal verb complex must be a complete semantic unit in itself). This is even more evident in the typical translation of "single verbs" from Latin or French. The concept of "separable verb" is an even stranger one (and I am no expert here admittedly). In the real-life use of German and Dutch, the preposition is not normally attached to the verb, except in those cases where by the syntax of both languages, the verb itself shifts after those words in its scope. In other words, the preposition doesn't attach itself to the verb, it is the other way around; and, also, strictly speaking, the preposition is in intonation not "attached" to the verb, but rather a separate PP from the verb.

4) "translation linguistics" has had an insidious impact on the description of European (and other) languages. The well-known ones are split-infinitive, prepositions not at the end of clauses, the misapplication of the term future to "will", and so on. The concept of "phrasal verbs" as being "single items" is another. Latin does have its class of verbs that are modified by prepositions - but literally as prepositions; these must go before the verb as prefixes (mirare > admirare, inmirare, etc.). For developers of dictionaries and the like who have no background in language analysis, but often a very strong backgrounding particularly in Latin, it is therefore logical to consider something like "ausgehen" as being a verb with a preposition as a prefix, recorded as such in the dictionary, which then leads to the "logical" conclusion that the prefix is then separable.

5) Why should this particular subcategory be acknowledged by most anyone who has ever studied English grammar (and Germanic in general)? One is because there is the special relationship between the preposition/particle and the S-V nexus which is similar to that of the S-V-adverb nexus (like "he walked slowly") but differs in being directional/positional. This is significant, of course - but as you say, it does not create a "single word"; it needs acknowledgement, but not "overkill", which is what happens in so many texts for EFL (and dictionaries) - like 3 or 4 pages of the meanings of "phrasal verbs" based on "get" - and smaller but similar treatment of "look", "set", and so on.

6) Why is it that object-less "prepositions" can appear with some verbs but not with others? This is part on the semantic properties of words - semanticists often say things like such characteristics [what it can combine with] need to be put marked as part of the verb meaning. It is logical for different words to have different semantic properties, even those that seem to be in the same general category, such as "suggest" and "tell" - one can't say "suggest me a solution" even though many a learner of English says this. "Suggest" is a "saying" word (the production of words), while "tell" is a "giving" word (the giving of information).

7) Why does there seem to be a particularly close bond between certain verbs and these object-less "prepositions"? The bond is not between the verb and the object-less preposition - it is between the subject-verb nexus and the objectless preposition. In "she climbed up" (not a "phrasal verb", of course), "up" refers both to the object being climbed (tree or whatever) and who is doing the action (she climbing). In "the plane took off" "off" has the same syntactic function of showing not only that the plane is departing from the starting point (as is the same in run off, walk off, drive off, swim off, fly off, set off, etc.), which can be overtly specified with a PP marked by "from", but also that it is the plane taking itself away. The PP is in this tight bond because it refers to the subject's action.

Concerning the catena, your point is partially correct. Above all, the catena helps one address the syntax of phrasal verbs; it does not necessarily help one understand the semantics of phrasal verbs. Consider, however, that it constitutes a significant step forward in our understanding of how meaning is matched to form. On a constituet-based theory of syntactic structure, it is very difficult to see how the verb and the particle together can be judged a unit of syntax to which meaning can be assigned, for the two often cannot be construed as forming a constituent (at least not in surface syntax). On a catena-based approach, in contrast, one sees immediately that the idiosyncratic meaning is being assigned to catenae. These catenae are stored as single structural units. We have a one-to-one correspondence that points from meaning to form (but not vice versa!). This one-to-one correspondece is really not available if the constituent is the only syntactic unit that the theory has at its disposal.

By your argument, one can say that all meaning made of words operating in syntactic relationships, not only idiomatic meaning, is assigned to catenae.

Let's put all this aside for a moment. How might the article be revised to help accommodate your stance? To the extent to which I can agree with your points, I think the section "Origin of phrasal verbs" says what needs to be said in the area. Perhaps this section can be expanded. --Tjo3ya (talk) 22:12, 14 September 2012 (UTC)


One other point, the S-V nexus and V-O combination that you emphasize above are catenae. More often than not, however, they do not qualify as constituents. Hence the central semantic/syntactic units that you seem to want situate at the center of your account of the word order of phrasal verbs qualify as catenae but not as constituents. --Tjo3ya (talk) 22:27, 14 September 2012 (UTC)

I thought this was a given in what I said.

Hi Roidhrigh,
I've just read through these materials again and would like to add two or three more thoughts. The first concerns your use of the term "idiomatic". You employ this term quite a bit, and when you do, you do not enclose the term in scare quotes. I interpret this to mean that you understand "idiomatic" to denote something real. I would expect, however, that someone who argues that all meaning is in fact compositional would avoid this term, or would always put it in scare quotes. This person might acknowledge metaphorical meaning, but he/she would not acknowledge idiomatic meaning, since "idiomatic" and "noncompositional" are largely synonymous.

Hi again - you have misunderstood - idiom does exist and must be acknowledged, and idiom is an important sub-category of metaphor. Idiomatic meaning, metaphorical meaning in general - is a real part of human communication. However, I maintain metaphor/idiom are compositional; that the claim that (full) idioms are unpredictable from their parts (= noncompositonal) is in itself a misapplication of the concept of "The figurative meaning is comprehended in regard to a common use of the expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made". I maintain that the idiomatic use is not separate form the literal use.

My second comment concerns your choice to call particles "object-less PPs". You express a desire to make it easier for learners of English to learn phrasal verbs, and you want to remove the term "phrasal verb" entirely. Replacing the term particle with "object-less PP" would not, I think, make things easier for anyone. The term particle is more appropriate because it directly captures the fact that there is no object. One important trait of particles is that they are not the heads of phrases. In this regard, I think your approach confuses matters more than simplifies them.

You would be surprised about how "enlightening" it is for students and how much easier they find "my" concept than the concept of either "phrasal verb" and "particle". I and other teachers have been following "my" methodology in real-life classes with students from around the world for some years now, and so have been able to "prove the point", as have the teachers I have done professional development sessions with. The terms "phrasal verb" and "particle" as terms makes life (supposedly - but not in reality) easier for us - as teachers. It complicates things for students. Moreover, the term "particle" does not capture the fact that there is no object. It simply says that "I don't know what to call it, and "particle" is as good a term as any for something that is small and seemingly relatively insignificant". It dates from the days when prepositions/particles were more often than not assumed not have no meaning. Students understand very easily that verbs can have no object, or understood objects, that nouns can appear on their own, and that prepositions can also appear on their own (with understood objects). I talk not only from my experience but also the experience of others.

My third comment concerns one specific example. Your claim that take off is covertly reflexive is quite implausible for me. In fact take off is a solid example of noncompositional meaning. Perhaps one can make a case that etymologically, take off arose from a reflexive predicate, but from a synchronic point of view, there is nothing reflexive about it. I think anyone you ask would reject the notion that take off has a covert meaning akin to take oneself off. That strikes me as a desperate attempt to interpret meaning as compositional that really cannot be construed as compositional in any way.

I have to say that this is a case of "been there done that" with not only "take off" but others as well, not only with students, teachers, but also in discussion with teachers, linguistics, and so on - and learnt of this from doing university course work and so on in descriptive, historical, and so on linguistics with various lecturers/professors of that ilk, a well as reading various articles and so on of all complexions. In other words, what you are suggesting is not the case. Of course "take" is "take off" is a "reflexive" - only in the sense that the doer is doing the action to itself - the bird took off, the dog took off, etc., it is clear that the doer is "taking itself off". The structure is intransitive, as English does not have a morphemic class of intransitive-reflexive verbs - however does have verbs that can be inherently reflexive, such as "take", "hold".

One final statement. I can support an inclusion of some of the analysis you prefer if your points appear somewhere in good sources. If they do not, I will strive against allowing such an unconventional analysis to appear. I hope to make it to the library tomorrow. --Tjo3ya (talk) 01:55, 15 September 2012 (UTC)

Huddleston and Pullum[edit]

Hi Roidhrigh,

I've now checked Huddleston and Pullum (2002:274). They dislike the term phrasal verb for the same reason that I dislike it: the word combinations that form phrasal verb constructions are not phrases.

But concerning the idiomatic character of phrasal verbs, Huddleston and Pullum state right there in the same section on page (p. 274) that these constructions have idiomatic interpretations. Their sentiment is widely accepted (I mean really widely!), as the other sources I'm looking at confirm. I feel supported in my stance.

For the analysis you prefer to have credence, one would have to assume that "idiomatic" and "metaphorical" are synonymous. But I doubt you are going to be able to find any good source that says such a thing. My understanding of these concepts is that idiom is lexicalized metaphor. That is a quite different from saying that idiom IS metaphor.

I may not respond to further messages unless a good concrete source or two is produced that state basically that idiom and metaphor are one and the same thing, or unless a third party steps in to shed some knew light on this matter. I will, however, defend the current content off the article in this area. --Tjo3ya (talk) 22:12, 17 September 2012 (UTC)

I like the changes to the article - the qualifications are much more inclusive of other opinions, as are the various issues dealing with "phrasal [etc] verbs". It is the type of thorny issue (like verb tense and so on, as you know) where people get hot under the collar, rightly or wrongly.
I have to say that you, I and Huddleston and others have always been in complete agreement about the dubious value of the terms "phrasal verb", "prepositional verb", "particle verb", etc. Huddleston and Pullum (I was one of their students, so I know there are many others who follow their reasoning) and I take the next logical step. Ideally, we should stop using such terms. But - as you rightly point out - the term is so useful in its way (everyone knows more or less what one means by it), that until something more accurate comes up, it is a very useful shorthand.
I also know you have not understood certain parts of what I say (leaving aside the thorny issue of what "particles" might really be) - I have been too rambling, which is a serious fault of mine. I maintain that idiom is a sub-category of metaphor, NOT that idiom and metaphor are synonymous.
Where my understanding differs from yours is that where idiom deals with individual words, then this is of course a subcategory of lexical metaphor, and that lexical idiom can also depend on more than word in the sequence, i.e. is compositional, if I dare use the word that way. As an idiom, take off [from X] is an example where only one word carries the idiom (take), while a "multi-lexical" is fed up with X, in depending on more than one of the words (fed < feed and up).
Perhaps what I am really trying to get out is that the article does not actually pay attention to semantic or other criteria (such as that of cognitive linguistics, etc.).
Roidhrigh 23 Set 2012

Should not we rename strange "particle verbs" to more grammatically correct "adverb verbs"?[edit]

"There are 41 particles (prepositions or adverbs) that combine with verbs to form phrasal verbs. "

But: "Phrasal verbs that include a preposition are known as prepositional verbs and phrasal verbs that include a particle are also known as particle verbs."

And: "In grammar, a particle is a function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes (such as nouns, pronouns, verbs, or articles). It is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of words and terms that lack a precise lexical definition. It is mostly used for words that help to encode grammatical categories (such as negation, mood or case), or fillers or discourse markers that facilitate discourse such as well, ah, anyway, etc. Particles are uninflected.[1] As examples, the English infinitive marker to and negator not are usually considered particles."

Should not we rename strange "particle verbs" to more grammatically correct "adverb verbs"? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Constantinehuk (talkcontribs) 23:35, 24 September 2012 (UTC)

Three sources are listed in note 4 that employ the term particle verb. I think it is the dominate term. I have never encountered the term adverb verb. If there are good sources that employ the term adverb verb, however, and those sources can be cited, then the article should be revised to accommodate that terminology as well. But if this literature cannot be produced, then the term particle verb should remain and there is no reason to revise the article in this area. --Tjo3ya (talk) 23:49, 24 September 2012 (UTC)
I agree; and probably the "particle" article should be amended to point out that being a particle is not necessarily inconsistent with being an adverb (or at least, being called a particle by one describer is not necessarily inconsistent with being called an adverb by another). Victor Yus (talk) 07:17, 25 September 2012 (UTC)
The "particles" in particle verbs include words that, in other contexts, are neither adverbs or prepositions: put paid to, come clean (about), get rid of, etc. Particle may be a "catch-all, heterogeneous" set, but that is exactly what is needed here. CapnPrep (talk) 12:16, 27 September 2012 (UTC)

Page move[edit]

The page was moved, and then moved back, but it looks like this page hasn't been moved properly. The page history is at English phrasal verb, the article which redirects to Phrasal verb with the page content. Wikipedia:Moving_a_page#Undoing_a_move seems to properly explain how to reverse a page move. Count Truthstein (talk) 13:28, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

Also I would suggest that editors do not do any more work on this page until this is sorted out, otherwise it will get even more complicated. Count Truthstein (talk) 13:29, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

I think it will need an admin to sort this out now. The same situation exists at Idiom/English idiom. Victor Yus (talk) 14:45, 19 January 2013 (UTC)
I do not understand why someone would rename/move this article. The term "phrasal verb" is largely unique to English. In other languages, similar lexical items are called something different. For German, they are called "separable prefix verbs". Hence there is no good reason to move the article under a heading specific to English. Besides, this is English Wikipedia! --Tjo3ya (talk) 15:41, 19 January 2013 (UTC)
Yes, I think we all agree with that - it's just that you probably should have moved the article back using the "Move" function rather than copying and pasting text, since now the editing history has got detached from the article it applies to. Victor Yus (talk) 10:14, 20 January 2013 (UTC)

New organization[edit]

Roidhrigh, The new organization doesn't work. It doesn't work because the notes on terminology only make sense if one has first seen the examples. One will not understand the difference between particle verb and prepositional verb without knowing what these terms refer to. I will revert the article back after you have first had a chance to respond. --Tjo3ya (talk) 19:52, 27 April 2013 (UTC)

Recent additions[edit]

Alborzagros, your recent editions do not improve the article. The additional verbiage is mostly redundant. The additional links smell of advertisements. The grammar and style of the additions is also problematic. I am going to undo your edits, but I will wait a bit first to give you a chance to respond. --Tjo3ya (talk) 14:12, 5 May 2013 (UTC)

The last words that I added is about being dialectal utterances of phrasal verbs. That also explain on intransitive and transitive of this kind of verbs. please encourage me to develop English Wikipedia and avoid putting me off. HAVE A NICE TIME. Alborzagros (talk) 06:53, 6 May 2013 (UTC)

I don't think encouraging you to improve your contribution is going to improve the article. The information you have added was mostly already present, which means the introduction has become redundant. The links you have added already appeared in the section "External links". Furthermore, some of the terminology you employ is unknown to me in the context of phrasal verbs, e.g. "dialectal utterances" and "making new captions". I am now going to undo your edits. If you intend to dispute the issue, we will have to get third party opinions to settle the matter. --Tjo3ya (talk) 18:04, 7 May 2013 (UTC)
Alborzagros, Before you go editing your additions back, please answer some questions for me. Why do you want to have the links in the notes? Shouldn't they appear in the section for links to outside sources? What does "making a new caption" mean? What is the new information that you have added? In other words, what is there in what you want to add that is not not already there? --Tjo3ya (talk) 07:11, 8 May 2013 (UTC)
I agree with Tjo3ya; the added text was not very coherent, is hard to understand, and doesn't appear to add any information that isn't already there. The article can certainly be improved, but not in this way. Victor Yus (talk) 07:27, 8 May 2013 (UTC)
I called off my idea of adding new text up. I would try to buck this article up later.Alborzagros (talk) 09:02, 8 May 2013 (UTC)

Order of presentation[edit]

Roidhrigh, I think the examples should appear before the discussion of the terminology. To know what the terminology is referring to, one needs to see the illustrative examples first. You obviously disagree. Please back up your point of view here. And what do others think? Which section should appear before the other? Examples before terminology, or terminology before examples? --Tjo3ya (talk) 18:39, 8 May 2013 (UTC)

There should certainly be some examples first, perhaps in the introduction. I don't necessarily mind the terminology section (which is quite short) coming before the main "examples" section (which could perhaps be retitled), but readers ought to be shown some concrete examples of what we call phrasal verbs, both before and probably within the section on terminology. Victor Yus (talk) 07:22, 9 May 2013 (UTC)
There may be way to forge some sort of compromise here with Roidhrigh, but he/she is not responding. He/she has changed the article twice now and has ignored both of my attempts to generate a dialogue about the disagreement. I am now going to change the article back. (At least some) examples should proceed the section on terminology, so that one can understand the discussion of the terminology. --Tjo3ya (talk) 13:27, 9 May 2013 (UTC)

Love story[edit]

I found these examples in the article, and added the line in brackets:

He walked across the square.
She opened the shutters and looked outside.
[The shutter shattered against the wall.]
When he heard the crash, he looked up.

This could be the beginning of a love story. I have no skill at that sort of thing, so feel free to use it. -- (talk) 00:52, 15 December 2013 (UTC)