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Helping Upper Intermediate learners come to grips with multi-word verbs
by Sandra Bradwell

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Appendix 1

Jennifer Seidl 1990:8/9 - English Idioms Exercises on Phrasal Verbs


There are three basic combinations of verb, adverbial particle and preposition. These are:
Verb + particle
Verb + preposition
Verb + particle + preposition

In their Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English, A.P.Cowrie and R. Mackin present these combinations in a system of patterns, three intransitive (i.e. there is no direct object) and three transitive (i.e. there is a direct object).

This gives us six patterns:
1 Intransitive + particle
e.g. slow down, get on, take off

2 Intransitive + preposition
e.g. go off someone/something, count on someone/something

3 Intransitive + particle + preposition
e.g. put up with someone/something, come up against someone/something

4 Transitive + particle
e.g. pack something in, take someone off

5 Transitive + preposition
e.g. talk someone into something, turn someone off someone/something

6 Transitive + particle + preposition
e.g. put someone up to something, take someone up on something

Martin Parrott 2000: 109
Grammar for English Language Teachers

Main types of multiword verb

Learners are often taught that there are four 'types' of multiword verb:

Type 1 No object (intransitive) i.e. they don't take a direct object
We got up early. The plane took off.

Type 2 Object (transitive) inseparable i.e. they need a direct object and this can't go between the verb and the particle
She never asks me to look after the children (NOT .. never asks me to look her children after.)

Type 3 Object (transitive) separable i.e. they need a direct object and this can go between the verb and the particle
Can you put my parents up if they come?
Don't bring these problems up at the meeting.

Type 4 Object (transitive)with two particles (the particles are inseparable)
You should look up to teachers (NOT … look up teachers to)

Note: Teachers as well as learners generally find this degree of analysis sufficient for all practical purposes. However, sometimes multiword verbs are also known as and divided into phrasal and prepositional verbs, and the particles are described as adverbs or as prepositions. In this case types 1 and 3 multiword verbs are known as phrasal verbs and their particles are classified as adverbs. Type 2 multiword verbs are known as prepositional verbs and their particles are classified as prepositions. Type 4 multiword verbs are known as phrasal-prepositional verbs. The first particle is classified as an adverb and the second as a preposition.

Other types of multiword verbs

Not all multiword verbs fit neatly into one of these four categories.

Some verbs and particles have to be separated by an object, even if this is not a pronoun.
He knocked his children about (NOT He knocked about his children).

The object of some multiword verbs can only be it. We can't use other nouns, expressions or pronouns.
We both sulked for ages but in the end we had it out and now we've made it up.

Appendix 2

There are three important criteria which help distinguish holistic multi-word items from other kinds of strings. They are institutionalisation, fixedness, and non-compositionality:

Institutionalisation is the degree to which a multi-word item is conventionalised in the language: does it recur? Is it regularly considered by a language community as being a unit? Pawley (1986) discusses the process and fact of institutionalisation or, in his terms, 'lexicalisation'

Fixedness is the degree to which a multi-word item is frozen as a sequence of words. Does it inflect? Do its component words inflect in predictable or regular ways? For example, they rocked the boat and not they rock the boated or they rocked the boats. Similarly, does the item vary in any way, perhaps in its component lexis or word order? For example, another kettle of fish and a different kettle of fish are alternative forms, but on the other hand is not varied to on another hand or on a different hand.

Non-compositionality is the degree to which a multi-word item cannot be interpreted on a word-by-word basis, but has a specialised unitary meaning. This is typically associated with semantic non-compositionality: for example when someone kicks the bucket (i.e. 'dies') they are not actually doing anything to a receptacle with their foot, and cats' eyes (luminous glass beads set into the road surface to guide drivers) in British English, are not in any degree biological. However, non-compositionality can also relate to grammar or pragmatic function. For example, of course is non-compositional because it is ungrammatical, and the imperative valediction Take care! can be said to be non-compositional because of its extralinguistic situational function or 'pragmatic specialisation'.

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