flesl.net grammar glossary::multi-word verbs

multi-word verbs

• Multi-word verbs are a large and important class of English verbs in which a single verb-word works in close association with one or more other words. Most often there is just one other word, a ‘particle,’ in addition to the verb-word. This particle can be either a preposition or an adverb. Sometimes, however, the associated word is not a particle but rather an adjective, a noun, or another verb.

• There are four main types of multi-word verb:

• phrasal verbs:

for example:   break up   •   take off   •   throw out   •   put through   •   turn away   •   check in   •   find out   

• prepositional verbs:

for example:   look at   •   approve of   •   call on   •   protect from   •   get rid of   •   take care of   •   lose touch with   

• phrasal-prepositional verbs:

for example:   look forward to   •   put up with   •   look in on   •   get away with   •   look down on   •   do away with   

• other multi-word verbs:

for example:   cut short   •   plead guilty   •   let go   •   lie low   •   break even   •   make do   •   get going   

• The key to understanding the nature of multi-word verbs is to see that they all share the characteristic of unity. To say that a multi-word verb is unified is to say that the two or more words it contains make up a single thing—a unit. And because they are units, these verbs should be taught and learned as units. The nature of the unity, however, varies sharply between the two most important types—phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs. The unity of the phrasal verbs is primarily semantic. For example when the phrasal verb “take off“  is used in a sentence like “Jill took off her sweater”  the verb-word “take”  loses the meaning it has when used alone and now works together with the particle “off”  to create a new meaning. In the case of most prepositional verbs, by contrast, the verb-word and the particle form a syntactic not a semantic unit: the particle/preposition is required in order for an object to be attached to the verb. For example, when the prepositional verb “approve of”  is used in a sentence like “Sam did not approve of Jill’s behaviour”  the verb-word “approve”  has the same meaning as it does when it is used without a preposition in the sentence “Sam did not approve.”

• It may seem contradictory to speak of multi-word ‘verbs’ since the term “verb” is normally used to refer to a type of word (i.e. a member of the verb-word class). There is, however, a well-established extended use of the term “word” according to which it can be used to refer to a group of two or more words which operates as a single semantic or syntactic unit. In that extended sense a multi-word verb can be regarded as a “word” and therefore as a “verb.”