Monday, May 23, 2011

Lesson on prepositional verbs

What is a prepositional verb?

Good question! It depends on who you ask, as the definition of prepositional verb seems to be somewhat elastic.
They are sometimes seen as corresponding to one of the four classic categories of phrasal verb, and that is how I'm interpreting them here. But see note below for other theories.
In these examples the underlined particles are prepositions, the rest are adverbs.
  1. Intransitive. get up
  2. Seperable transitive. give up sth or give sth up
  3. Non-separable transitive. Prepositional verbs look for sb / sth
  4. Three part verbs put up with sth
I'm not totally convinced about doing exercises based on only one type of phrasal verb, but then the subject of phrasal verbs is such a huge one, that it's probably as good a way as any of breaking them down into manageable chunks. In any case I have a funny feeling that prepositional verbs are going to be a trending topic (metaphorically), so we might as well get used to them.
The most imporant thing with phrasal verbs is to learn what they mean, and see how they are used in context. If grammar's not your thing, don't get too bogged down in the details.
  1. Prepositional verbs are usually listed in dictionaries as phrasal verbs .
  2. They consist of a verb + preposition and must take an object
  3. This object is a noun (phrase), a pronoun or a gerund (phrase).
    • We need to look at this problem very seriously.
    • Let's look at it from a different angle.
    • We should be looking at approaching it in a different way.
  4. The object usually comes immediately after the preposition, but can come before the clause in a relative clause, and is sometimes implied, as in a question.
    • I'm looking for my new book.
    • Is this the book you're looking for?
    • What are you looking for?
  5. When the object comes after the preposition, they cannot be separated. But we can sometimes separate the preposition from the verb with an adverb, although we usually prefer not to when the object is a pronoun:
    • I've been looking everywhere for that book.
    • I've been looking for it everywhere.
  6. On this blog, prepositional verbs are taken to have a special meaning which cannot necessarily be understood by just looking at their component parts. They don't include phrases which simply consist of a verb and a preposition with a normal meaning.
    • He's looking into the possibility of buying a new car.
    • He was looking into the mirror, when he saw a ...
  7. I'm not including three-part verbs in this category.
Note - Phrasal verbs are sometimes referred to as multiword verbs. Some people see prepositional verbs as a different category of multiword verb from phrasal verbs, which according to them, must take an adverb, not a preposition. I'm from the old school so I see them as just one type of phrasal verb. It keeps things nice and easy that way. And that is how the majority of TEFL course books and dictionaries still see them. For more discussion about this see my earlier post, When is a phrasal verb not a phrasal verb?
Click and Drop - Where you see this sign, mouse over for instructions

Warmer. These ones you should know.

Exercise 1 - you will need to use one preposition more than once

across   ·   with   ·   into   ·   over   ·   off   ·   round   ·   after
1.She really takes her mum. They've both got exactly the same laugh.
2.Guess who I came in town the other day? Your ex.
3.Excuse me. Do I get the bus here for the castle, or at the next stop?
4.We're looking their dog while they're on holiday.
5.We need to look this very carefully before we make a decision.
6.Would you prefer to look the cathedral before or after lunch?
7.He's still trying to get the shock of being made unemployed.
8.Peter, can you deal these customers, please? I'm a bit tied up.

A little harder perhaps

Exercise 2 - Match the beginnings and endings

1. If you bump
2. When I told Samantha I was going out with Roger, she burst
3. God it's hot. I'm dying
4. If I was offered the job I'd jump
5. Then he launched
6. I don't know what John can be playing
7. I'll just run
8. That's a tricky one. I'll need to sleep
9. She loyally stood
a)by her husband through the whole scandal.
b)on it.
c)at the chance.
d)for a nice cool drink.
e)into this lengthy explanation of why I was wrong.
f)at. Where on earth is he?
g)through the details once again.
h)into tears. I wonder why.
i)into Heather while you're out, can you give her this, please.

Grouping them by verbs

Exercise 3 - Use each preposition once only except where indicated.

to   ·   after   ·   towards   ·   at (x2)   ·   on
about   ·   for   ·   into   ·   through (x2)
1.Sammy looks the financial side of things.
2.Can you look these figures for me. There seems to be some discrepancy.
3.We're looking someone with experience in data processing.
4.You'll need to look this in some detail
5.Look this brochure and see if there's anything that takes your fancy
6.You'll need to see arranging lunch for the visitors.
7.Finally she saw his lies and dumped him.
8.Can you see the children while I get supper ready.
9.He's working a design for a new eco car.
10.She's been working really hard improving her English.
11.He's working a degree in architecture. But it takes a long time.

Grouping them by particles (in this case prepositions)

Exercise 4 - Fill the gaps using the verbs in the box.

flick   ·   ran   ·   slept   ·   go   ·   saw   ·   lived   ·   looked   ·   scrape
1.Let's quickly through this film programme to see if there's anything worth seeing.
2.I'll through the itinerary with you. On Monday you ...
3.She through a magazine while she was waiting.
4.They through the scene one more time before calling it a day.
5.I hadn't revised much, but I just managed to through the exam.
6.He through the salesman's patter and realised the car was a real dud.
7.They through some very hard times in the past.
8.I can't imagine how you through that thunderstorm. It was so loud.

Sometimes the same verb can have two different meanings:

Exercise 5 - Match these prepositional verbs with their meanings.

1. Congratulations! This calls for a celebration.
2. I'll call for you at about seven.
3. So altogether that comes to 24 Euro, 35.
4. OK. We've come to a decision. We'll take it.
5. She fell for the puppy as soon as she saw it.
6. Of course he totally fell for it when I told him about the left-handed burger.
7. I think I'll go for the lemon sorbet.
8. He tends to go for the shy type.
9. So let me go through it again. We get into the bank by ...
10. He went through a very bad time last year.
11. She always turns to me when she has a problem.
12. After his divorce he turned to drink in a big way.
a)total, amount to
b)start to do something bad
c)come and collect
d)be tricked into believing something
e)be strongly attracted to
f)like, be attracted to
g)deserve, need, be a good reason for
h)arrive at, make
i)ask someone for help, advice etc.
j)choose (eg. from a selection)
k)explain the details
l)experience a difficult situation

Note - The same phrasal verb can not only have different meanings, but also be of different types:

  • I came across this old clock in the market - find unexpectedly
    Transitive non-separable – the particle is a preposition
  • He comes across as being very intelligent. - appear, give the impression
    Three part - the first particle is an adverb, the second a preposition
  • Stand by your man - support
    Transitive non-separable - the particle is a preposition
  • Stand by, everybody, we're about to start - get ready
    Intransitive - the particle is an adverb

Sometimes two prepositional verbs having very similar meanings share the same preposition.

Exercise 6a - Choose the correct preposition for each pair of prepositional verbs. Then check.

at   ·   across   ·   through   ·   to   ·   on   ·   for   ·   up
1. bank / count sb/sth
2. brush / polish sth
3. flick / flip sth
4. come / run sb/sth
5. keep / stick sth
6. take / warm sb/sth
7. head / make somewhere
a)look briefly at different pages of a magazine etc.
b)continue doing something, even if it is difficult
c)go in the direction of
d)practise and improve your skills
e)start to like
f)meet or find by accident
g)need something to happen, have confidence that sb will do something

Exercise 6b - Now match them to their meanings (a-g).

Some odds and ends

Exercise 7 - Fill the gaps with prepositional verbs from the box.

burst into   ·   grow on   ·   dawned on   ·   falling under
allow for   ·   asking after   ·   stand for   ·   became of
1.What the Likely Lads. (song) - happened to
2.Granada, I'm your spell. (song) - succumbing to
3.That tune's beginning to me. - become pleasing to
4.I'm not going to any more of this nonsense. (idiom)
5.We need to some traffic jams on the way.
6.And suddenly the seven dwarfs all song. - started to ...
7.He was your father's health. - inquiring about
8.It's just me. Isn't it your birthday today? - occurred to

Putting it all together.

Random stories
I've posted a little story to give you some more practice which you can now find here.

Note 1 - Sometimes we use a verb plus preposition with a special meaning, but only in certain expressions. It is probably better to think of these as idioms than prepositional verbs:

  • We came up trumps with that deal.
    - We got the best result possible
  • Everything's coming up roses at the moment.
    - Everything's doing very well (originally from a song)

Note 2 - Sometimes we always a verb with the same preposition. I think these are better looked at under dependent prepositions:

  • We can always rely on Sandra to come up with the goods.
  • She totally depends on her mother for everything.
  • There's no point in skimping on the portions if we want our customers to come back again. (trying to save money by giving or spending very little)

Note 3 - Some people's interpretation of what constitutes a prepositional verb is rather wider than mine

  • I drove through the traffic lights when they were red. (BBC Learning English)
  • He wasn’t tall enough and couldn’t climb over the fence. (BBC Learning English)
  • Can you sit on the chair properly. (Language Leader Advanced)
  • Did you talk about me? (English Club)
  • John is waiting for Mary. (English Club)
  • We talked to the minister about the crisis. (Wikipedia)
These all represent normal usage of the respective verbs and nouns. There is no extra meaning that needs to be known, and none of these are listed in English Phrasal Verbs in Use, for example. So they don't meet the criteria put forward by, for example, (my emphasis):
[A prepositiona verb is] an idiomatic expression that combines a verb and a preposition to make a new verb with a distinct meaning.
Criteria I totally agree with. And in the Language Leader Advanced Teacher Book the authors say:
... with prepositional verbs, the preposition changes the meaning of the verb, which is not the case with verbs simply followed by prepositions
So there seems to be, to say the least, a little confusion in this area. If you're interested in reading more about this, I have written about it quite extensively here.
Note 4 - Most of the verbs I've used are listed in English Phrasal Verbs in Use by Michael McCarthy and Felicity O'Dell (Cambridge University Press) - see link below.

Answers to the exercises

  • Ex 1 - 1. after, 2. after, 3. across, 4. off, 5. into, 6. round, 7. over, 8. with]
  • Ex 2 - 1. i, 2. h, 3. d, 4. c, 5. e, 6. f, 7. g, 8. b, 9. a
  • Ex 3 - 1. after, 2. at, 3. for, 4. into, 5. through, 6. about, 7. through, 8. to, 9. on, 10. at, 11. towards
  • Ex 4 - 1. g, 2. c, 3. a, 4. h, 5. e, 6. d, 7. j, 8. f, 9. k, 10. l, 11. i, 12. b
  • Ex 5 - 1. flick, 2. go, 3. looked, 4. ran, 5. scrape, 6. saw, 7. lived, 8. slept
  • Ex 6a - 1. on, 2. up, 3. through, 4. across, 5. at, 6. to, 7. for
  • Ex 6b - 1. g, 2. d, 3. a, 4. f, 5. b, 6. e, 7. c
  • Ex 7 - 1. became of, 2. falling under, 3. grow on, 4. stand for, 5. allow for, 6. burst into, 7. asking after, 8. dawned on

Printer friendly post

You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. Or you can print normally and the answers will appear on a separate page (Page 9). The lesson is on Pages 1-8. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you certainly won't want to print every page.


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