flesl.net grammar glossary::transitive prepositional verb

transitive prepositional verbs

Transitive prepositional verbs are a type of prepositional verb. (The other type is ditransitive prepositional verbs.)

• Here are some examples:

approve of: Harry’s mother didn’t approve of him spending so much time with Jill.

invest in: Tom told Dick he thought it would be a mistake to invest in Harry’s company.

think about: Harry told Jill he had been thinking about his mother a lot.

run into: Jill didn’t expect to run into anyone she knew in such an expensive restaurant.

call for: Harry told Dick he was afraid the shareholders would call for a vote.

see through: Jane didn’t understand why Jill couldn’t see through Harry’s lies.

• analysis of clauses with transitive prepositional verbs:

- clauses of this type have a [subject + verb phrase + object] structure :

Harry      is thinking about       his mother.


verb phrase

object (prepositional)

alternative analysis: Clauses with transitive prepositional verbs can also be analyzed as having a [subject + verb phrase + adverbial] structure. This has the advantage of maintaining parallelism with superficially similar clauses such as, “Harry is sleeping on the sofa,” in which a non-prepositional verb is unambiguously modified by an adverbial prepositional phrase. However, the alternative analysis would have disadvantages too: it would ignore the fact that the relevant question here is the ‘transitive’ one, “Who is Harry thinking about?” and not an ‘adverbial’ one like, “Where is Harry sleeping?” And, most importantly for ESL instruction, it would obscure the semantic unity of the prepositional verb.

• separability: Prepositional verbs are not separable: it is never correct, in other words, to place the direct object between the verb and the following preposition as in, Harry had been thinking his mother about. This is what distinguishes prepositional verbs from phrasal verbs where “object insertion” does take place. There are other less important and less “definitional” differences; for example, in prepostional verbs stress usually falls on the main verb and in phrasal verbs on the particle and in prepositional verbs, but not in phrasals, it is often possible to insert an adverb between the verb and the particle as in “Later, Dick regretted having invested unwisely in Harry’s company.”

• idiomaticity: Notice that the first two prepositional verbs given as examples above are not idiomatic. One indication of this is that can be used instransitively, without any preposition and without any change of meaning as in, “After hearing what Harry had to say, Dick invested.” Although only two examples are given, non-idiomatic prepositional verbs are in fact more common than idiomatic ones.