flesl.net grammar glossary::multi-word verbs

transitive phrasal verbs

• Transitive phrasal verbs are a type of phrasal verb and phrasal verbs themselves are a type of multi-word verb. Here are some examples:

look up: Jane asked Tom and Sally to look up some of her old friends while they were in Calcutta.

put off: Finally, Harry decided to put the meeting off for a week.

tell off: When Tom walked into the office, Harry was shaking his fist at Dick and telling him off.

think over: Ernest thanked Harry for the job offer but said he wanted to think it over for a few days before deciding.

try on: Jill didn’t think the sweater would fit but she tried it on to make sure.

turn down: Two days later, Tom took Harry to lunch and told him he had decided to turn the offer down.

• The two most important characteristics of transitive phrasal verbs:

1. a unitary meaning (i.e. some degree of idiomaticity)

2. obligatory insertion of personal-pronoun object between verb and particle and optional insertion of noun-phrase object in that position (i.e. Jill tried the sweater on, or Jill tried on the sweater, or Jill tried it on, but not Jill tried on it.)

• These two characteristics work together to distinguish transitive phrasal verbs. Neither one is sufficient on its own: there are several other types of multi-word verb (including prepositional verbs such as look after) which also exhibit idiomaticity; and optional/obligatory object insertion is also exhibited by non-idiomatic “free-combinations” which are not considered to be phrasal verbs (e.g.There is no phrasal verb in the sentence, After washing the dishes Jill took out the garbage: both take and out are used in an ordinary, literal way and in addition, various substitutions are possible (Jill took the garbage down or Jill took the garbage up.) Optional noun-phrase insertion is still possible however

• The above examples exhibit a typical range of idiomaticity, tell off having the highest degree and try on or perhaps think over, having the lowest. (It is interesting, incidentally, to compare think over with think about. They have a similar meaning but think about is prepositional not phrasal because it doesn’t allow object-insertion.)

• The verb turn down provides a good example of the interplay between highly idiomatic phrasal verbs and straightforward free combinations as in, Jane always turns down the bedcovers about ten o’clock. Such “pairs” are very common.