Demystifying the ‘horrible phrasals’: a closer look
at learner problems and the ways of approaching
teaching multi-word verbs
by Małgorzata Bryndal
APPENDIX A: Linguistic analysis of MWVs: Form.
Different grammar reference books and EFL textbooks offer different classifications of verbs followed by particles and, consequently, different taxonomy (e.g. aside the term MWVs adopted for the discussion in this paper we can come across poly-word verbs, two-word verbs, and even phrasal verbs used broadly for verbs + particles). Thornbury (1997) as well as Parrott (2000) and Gairns & Redman (1986) refer to verbs which consist of two or more parts (i.e. verb + particle(s)) as multi-word verbs (MWVs). MWVs are part of content (lexical) words in the lexical system of the English language, they carry higher information content and are syntactically structured by the grammatical words (McCarthy 1991).
Within the MWV group we can make a distinction between (1) phrasal verbs (e.g. run away, put through) and (2) prepositional verbs (e.g. look after), depending on whether the particle following the main verb is an adverb or a preposition respectively(18). Thornbury (1997) also names a third category, a combination of the two mentioned above, i.e., (3) phrasal-prepositional verbs: verbs followed by 2 particles: an adverb and a preposition (e.g. get on (well) with).
Phrasal verbs can be transitive or intransitive, whereas prepositional and phrasal-prepositional verbs are always transitive. In case of intransitive phrasal verbs, the particle is inseparable from the verb, as there is no object to come between the particle and the verb. Transitive phrasal verbs on the other hand, allow the particle to come either before or after the object (with no difference in meaning or emphasis), unless the object is a personal pronoun, in which case the particle must come after the object. Transitive prepositional and phrasal-prepositional verbs are always inseparable – their (last) particle is a preposition which always must precede its object (cf. Thornbury 1997, Swan 1995). This syntactic classification is presented in the Diagram 1 below.
In terms of phonology, there are two main types of stress pattern among MWV:
- multi-word verbs with one stress – these are usually prepositional verbs, and the single stress in on the verb, leaving the particle with no stress, e.g. ‘make for, ‘make of. Usually, the particles in prepositional verbs are used in their weak forms, e.g.: It’s made of wood,
- MWV with two stresses – they have a primary stress on the particle and a secondary stress on the verb. Majority of these verbs are transitive, separable phrasal verbs. The distribution of the stress depends to a great degree on the placement and type of object of the phrasal verb:
- if the object is a pronoun, the particle is stressed, e.g.: ,Put it ‘on.
- if the object is a noun, the stress will be on the noun rather than on the particle, e.g.: ,Put the ‘jacket on.
- if the object is emphasised by the speaker and placed after the particle, the stress on the particle might be lost, e.g.: ,Put on the ‘jacket.
Cf. Underhill (2005)
Phrasal prepositional verbs behave just like phrasal verbs with two stresses, i.e., the verb carries the secondary stress, the first particle carries the main stress, and the third particle remains unstressed, e.g.: Why do you ,put ‘up with it ?
Diagram 1. Classification of multi-word verbs based on Thornbury (1997), Parrott (2002), (Potter 2005),and Gairns and Redman (1986)
APPENDIX B: Grouping of MWVs by the root verb, by the particle and by the syntactic type.
Grouping by the root verb has been discredited by Gairns & Redman (1986) who believe that items in such grouping will be largely unrelated in meaning and confusing with the similarity of form. From the learner’s point of view, this does not make them memorable, and for the teacher, further practice will be more difficult to organise.
Gairns and Redman (1986) are equally sceptical about grouping by the particle which draws attention to the inherent meanings of the particle. Such kind of grouping may be justified when particles perform a fairly consistent function with regard to the influence on the root verb, (e.g.: off often implies a general sense of separation), but the logic of some particles is not always easy to explain – idiomatic MWVs have to be learnt as set expressions.
Grouping MWVs by grammatical type (in terms of transitivity and verb-particle separation) may seem clear-cut and suit analytical students, but can be laden with unnecessary metalanguage and devoid of wider context. Thornbury (2002) adds that there is no evidence that students learn MWVs by learning the rules and there is no reason to believe that it is effective. In fact, rules are often daunting and students end up avoid using MWVs for fear of making mistakes.
APPENDIX C: Vocabulary presentation techniques
The following are various presentation techniques grouped into 3 categories, based on suggestions made by Hedge (2000), Nation (1990) and Gairns & Redman (1986):
1. visual (physical) techniques:
- physical demonstration, mime and gesture
- using visual aids such as pictures, flashcards, photographs, drawings, realia, etc.
2. verbal techniques:
- verbal explanation through analytical definition (definition by abstraction) or contextual definition (examples).
- use of synonyms
- use of antonyms (contrast and opposites) - must be used with caution and opposites must be illustrated in the context in which they apply (as heavy is not always opposite of light). Also, it is good to remember that lexical opposites such as narrow- broad should not be introduced in the same lesson or even the same unit of work. This is because of the tendency of learners to use only one member of a lexical opposition pair, and substitute the other by the first + negation i.e. good –bad à good – not good (Johnston 1985).
- use of scales
- examples of the type – used to illustrate the meaning of superordinates, e.g. furniture can be exemplified by: table, chair, bed, etc
- asking learners to check in the dictionary
3. translation – if used in moderation it can be a time saving and coherent way of explaining difficult vocabulary.
(19) Visual-auditory and kinaesthetic learners will prefer visual/physical presentation techniques, whereas visual-verbal(20) students will benefit more from verbal techniques.
APPENDIX D: Examples of activities for practising the use of MWVs.
Sources: Nattinger (1988), Lewis (1993), Thornbury (2002), Allen (1983), Gairns & Redman (1986), Honeyfield (1977)
I. Observing & Hypothesising /Awareness Raising / Comprehension:
- identifying exercises – requiring students to pick out MWVs in a text e.g.: identification through listening:
- listing items SS hear,
- raising a hand when hearing certain items,
- putting items in order SS hear them,
- ticking the items they hear,
- listening for items and writing them down in correct column (referring to a person, or some other category);
- selecting – more cognitively complex than identification – involve both identification and making choice about identified MWVs, e.g. choose 5 items you want to learn from this lesson and how you will demonstrate that you have learned them;
- exercises involving:
- matching: MWVs to their definitions or Latinate synonyms ,
- sorting MWVs in terms of separability,
- grouping MWVs according to the inherent meaning of the particle,
- ranking MWVs in terms of degree of formality,
- reordering sentences with MWVs;
II. Experimenting/ Recycling/ Storing
- gap fills and cloze procedures: filling in missing particles in the sentences or whole MWVs.
- re-phrasing, e.g.: changing a single-verb in a sentence to a multi-word verb that has a similar meaning.
- sentence and text creation tasks – creating the context for given MWVs;
- games, role-plays and questionnaires using new MWVs (crosswords, board races, cross and noughts, etc.)
- exercises involving some form of personalisation of new vocabulary – e.g. asking students to write sentences about themselves using new MWVs.
- teach-and-test exercises - they make the learners think about new words; e.g.: if the MWVs were taught using definitions, then they can be tested by asking learners to put them in gapped sentences;
Written storage of MWVs:
The recording format of new MWVs must suit the student’s learning style and allow him/her to retrieve new lexical items easily. Its appearance on the page must reflect sense relations between words as well as aspects of the linguistic environment in which these lexical items most frequently occur, either in general, or taking into account the particular student’s work, field of study or interest, (e.g.: collocation boxes, pattern displays, mind maps category sheets i.e. vocabulary noted in topical groups chosen by the students, index cards, field diagrams, grids (e.g.: profession/place of work/duties), pictures to label).
See bibliography for more resources with practice exercises and activities focused on MWVs.
APPENDIX E: Learner strategies and memorisation techniques.
Memorisation of vocabulary is aided by regular recycling, i.e. creating opportunities in the classroom for learners to practise the lexis in question. Teachers should make time for regular recycling of vocabulary, not only in warmers, but quick reviews after 1 or 2 days after presentation (20), then weekly or monthly progress test.
Also, retention depends on the amount of mental and emotional energy used in processing a word (cf. Hedge 2000, Carter and McCarthy 1988, Stevick 1976). Cognitive strategies employed by students to learn new words might include:
- mnemonic devices,
- loci – form of mnemonic in which a list of words to be learned is associated with a familiar visual image such as a room or a well-known tourist spot. Each word is associated in some way with one of the items in the visual image, the image is used when recalling the words;
- key word technique – L2 word is paired with L1 word in some very idiosyncratic way; the more bizarre the association the easier it will be to recall;
- paired associates – words from L1 and L2 which have similar sound and meaning are associated;
- rote learning
Some students also develop metacognitive strategies to assist vocabulary learning, i.e. strategies which facilitate learning by actively involving the learner in conscious efforts to remember new words, e.g.:
- consciously collecting words from authentic contexts,
- making word cards - good for revision and self-testing
- categorizing words into lists,
- reactivating vocabulary in internal dialogue,
- creating word networks – can be used later in topic related writing,
- keeping vocabulary notebooks – can be shared by students and used in pair.
The more systems of memorisation the students learn and make use of and the greater the exposure to the target items, the easier it will be to retrieve them from a variety of sources.
18. The distinction between adverbs and adjectives can be fuzzy sometimes, as many prepositions are also adverbs (or, to use Quirk and Greenbaum’s (1973) terminology, prepositionaladverbs), e.g. aboard, past (cf. Thornbury 1997). One indication of whether the particle is an adverb or a preposition is its syntactic independence: adverbs, unlike prepositions, can stand on their own, without being followed by complement in a sentence, e.g. (1) A car drove past (in this sentence past is an adverb/prepositional adverb, no complement follows; (2) A car drove past the door (here past is a preposition).
19. The distinction between the visual-auditory and visual-verbal classifications has to do with the cognitive mechanisms employed in the process of extracting lexical significance from written words. Three mechanisms have been proposed: 1. direct access – reader jumps from written word straight to lexical meaning (possible when written words are familiar), 2.indirect access – written words are transformed internally into sounds before accessing its lexical meaning (preferred when material is unfamiliar), and 3. dual encoding – a combination of direct and indirect access. The type of texts encountered in EFL textbooks and on classroom boards is more likely to be unfamiliar and therefore the process of extracting lexical significance from it is much more likely to be speech-mediated (indirect access), and so belongs in verbal rather than visual category (cf. Felder & Henriques 1995).
20. 80% of what we forget is lost within 24 hours, so there is a strong argument for revision of new language items one day after initial input (Gairns & Redman 1986)
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