sign up forgot password

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

ESL Teacher Blog: Phrasal Verbs and Prepositional Verbs - How to Tell Apart

When a preposition follows a verb, does it automatically make it a phrasal verb? Do you sometimes get asked this type of question? What is the difference between:

(1) Come to me. vs.: (2) It comes to $49.90?

The first one is a prepositional verb with a preposition ‘to’ commonly following the verb ‘come’ pointing to a particular direction. The preposition doesn’t change the meaning of the verb.

The second one is a phrasal verb consisting of a verb ‘come’ and particle ‘to’ (not really a preposition; see the note below in #3) which completely changes the meaning of the verb ‘come’. ‘Come to’ means ‘be total of’.

There are a few additional tests that can be done to differentiate between the two structures and clear the doubts of how to treat the verbs followed by prepositions.

1. Stress: in a prepositional verb structure it’s the verb that receives the major stress ‘cóme to me’; in a phrasal verb structure it’s the preposition that sounds louder ‘comes tó $49.90’.

2. Adverb insertion: an adverb can be inserted between a verb and preposition in a prepositional verb combination, but is impossible to insert into a phrasal verb:

The cat went quickly under the deck (prepositional verb). The ship quickly went under (phrasal verb meaning ‘sank’). not: The ship went quickly under.

3. Mobility: the particle of a transitive phrasal verb (that takes a direct object) can be placed before or after the direct object. A preposition in a prepositional verb combination cannot be moved after its object. Compare:

Carry the digit over to the next digit place to the left. or Carry over the digit to the next digit place to the left. (phrasal verb) He carried the bride over the threshold. (prepositional verb)

Note: a preposition always precedes its object. In case of phrasal verbs, since a preposition/adverb can precede or follow an object, it’s called a particle (rather than a preposition)

Have students analyze the prepositional and phrasal verbs by discussing plenty of other examples, e.g.:

The bullet went through the wall. vs.: The lawyer went through the files.

I bumped into a wall. vs. I bumped into a classmate.

He stepped down two more stairs. vs. He stepped down as CEO of the company.

It fell on the floor. The suspicion fell on him.

They ran around the field. She’s been running around all day long in the office.

He came back two hours later. Platform shoes are coming back.

I live with my mom. I’ll have to live with this feeling for the rest of my life.

It’s hard to pull clothes over a baby’s head. She got pulled over for speeding.

POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 2:35 PM
Monday, June 15, 2009 AT 6:19 PM
Alex Case said:
I think there's a bit more grammatical jargon than I would use with most classes here, but the pronunciation tip is really good and I hadn't come across it before. I'm always drawn between two approaches- use phrasal verb in a too wide way to avoid introducing any new metalanguage, or use multiword verb to cover everything and then tell them phrasal verbs are ones you can't guess the meaning of from the two elements. The number of grammatical differences will certainly make me think about extending the explanation of the differences though. TEFLtastic blog-

Monday, June 15, 2009 AT 8:32 PM
Olga Galperin said:
I think phrasal verbs become an issue at intermediate levels and up. Phrasal verbs at the beginner level don't really require a lot of effort since they're not hard to guess (sit down, stand up, wake up). As soon as students are ready to tackle this very particular structure of the English language, they can 'digest' the terms 'phrasal verbs' or 'multiword verbs', which are the same notion to me. Sooner or later they'll come across these terms in other classes or books. The grammatical differences are good to have at teacher's disposal when teaching advanced classes. It just shows a bigger picture of how the English language works.

  Name (required)   
  Mail (required)(will not be published)    
Type the characters you see in the picture

CAPTCHA Code Image

ESL Student Blog | ESL Teacher Blog | About Us | Contact Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Statement