Saturday, May 18, 2013

Phrasal verb or multi-word verb? Is there any difference?

I have to confess I'm a bit old-fashioned and resistant to change. Like a lot of students, I'm used to calling those special (and problematic) verbs consisting of a verb and a particle phrasal verbs. This is how they are referred to in dictionaries and in many grammar books and practice books dedicated to the subject.
A lot of course books and some websites, however, are now referring to multi-word or multi-part verbs instead.
One advantage of this new system is meant to be that we know that the category now known as prepositional verbs always take an object. On the other hand, I'm not sure how lumping Type 1 and Type 2 together makes anything easier. I also find it rather confusing that in this system the term, phrasal verb is still used but only refers to what I would call Type 1 and Type 2 phrasal verbs, and not to Types 3 or 4.
The new terms haven't had much effect on the Internet yet, where phrasal verb is overwhelmingly how all these verbs are referred to. Google Search brings up 2,870,000 hits for "phrasal verbs", 31,700 for "multi-word verbs", and 82,600 for "multi-part verbs". At Google Books the story is the same, with 82,700 hits for "phrasal verbs", only 2,770 for "multi-word verbs" and virtually nothing for "multi-part verbs".
But we can't turn the clock back; the term multi-word verbs, (or multi-part verbs) is apparently here to stay, so in this post I want to look at how the two systems currently being used in EFL/ESL teaching compare.

Types of phrasal verb or multiword (or multi part) verb

Phrasal verbsCharacteristicsMultiword verbs
Type 1
phrasal verbs
intransitive non-seperable - no object
verb + particle

Let's eat out tonight
Only three people turned up
Phrasal verbs
- intransitive
Type 2
phrasal verbs
transitive separable

a) object goes before or after the particle
verb + particle + obj / verb + obj + particle

Put your coat on / Put on your coat
Turn off the light / Turn the light off

b) object always goes between verb and particle
verb + obj + particle

I can never tell the twins apart
Let's have Jenny and Tom round for tea.
Phrasal verbs
- transitive
Type 3
phrasal verbs
transitive non-separable - takes an object after the particle
verb + particle + obj

She's looking after the baby.
They slept through the storm.
He turned to her for help.
Prepositional verbs
Type 4
phrasal verbs
two or more particles - takes an object after the second particle
verb + pt 1 + pt 2 + obj

He's gone down with flu.
Watch out for the traffic!
Phrasal-prepositional verbs
Phrasal verbs with two objects
a) two-part verbs
verb + obj 1 + particle + obj 2

He put his plan to her
She walked him through the instructions.

b) three-part verbs
verb + obj 1 + pt 1 + pt 2 + obj 2

He helped her on with her coat

A note on particles

Particles can act as adverbs or prepositions. When prepositions, they are always followed by an object.

Phrasal verb types

  1. the particle is an adverb
    eat out
  2. the particle acts as an adverb when separated, as a preposition when not
    turn the light on / turn on the light
  3. the particle is a preposition
    look after the children
  4. the first particle is an adverb, the second a preposition
    put up with their behaviour

Phrasal verbs with two objects

  1. with two part verbs the particle is a preposition
    put his plan to her
  2. with three part verbs the the first particle is an adverb, the second a preposition
    helped her on with her coat

A note on prepositional verbs

What gets counted as a prepositional verb seems to vary a bit. At one extreme there are people who limit them to what we know as Type 3 phrasal verbs. At the other, some people consider any verb plus a preposition to be a prepositional verb.
Rodney Huddleston, co-author of the influential Cambridge Grammar of the English Language suggests that prepositional verbs are verb + preposition combinations where the choice of preposition is dictated by the verb, in other words, where there is a dependent preposition.
So, go through isn't a prepositional verb because we could also go across, go over, go under, go into, etc. On the other hand, consist of, compete with, refer to would be included as prepositional verbs, because they are always followed by those prepositions. But we wouldn't normally count them as phrasal verbs in the traditional system.

Phrasal verbs in the passive

If we put a seperable phrasal verb into the passive, the verb and the particle always stay together; we can't separate them:
  • Active :
    • They've put off the meeting till Thursday
    • They've put the meeting off till Thursday.
    • The meeting has been put off till Thursday.
  • Active:
    • The drivers load up the vans first thing in the morning.
    • The drivers load the vans up first thing in the morning.
    • The vans are loaded up by the drivers first thing in the morning.
Three part phrasal verbs also stay together in the passive:
  • Active:
    • They helped her off with her coat
    • She was helped off with her coat

Phrasal verbs in dictionaries

Good learner's dictionaries will tell you how phrasal verbs are used. These examples are from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
  • Type 1 - eat out
  • Type 2 a) - put something < > off
  • Type 2 b) - tell something apart
  • Type 3 - look after somebody / something
  • Type 4 - go down with something
  • Two objects a) - put something to somebody
  • Two objects b) - help somebody on/off with something

Yet another system!

Some people, like Wikipedia, use a third categorisation, with Type 1 and Type 2 phrasal verbs being called particle phrasal verbs, Type 3 being called prepositional phrasal verbs and Type 4 being known as particle-prepositional phrasal verbs. This actually makes some sense to me, as it seems to have the best of both systems. All four categories are still called phrasal verbs, but we have the division into prepositional and particle verbs that we have in the multi-part system. But unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the way the EFL/ESL world is going.
Phrasal verbs
(the good old-fashioned system)
Multipart verbs
(the trendy new system)
Phrasal verbs
(Wikipedia etc)
Type 1 phrasal verbPhrasal verbs
- intransitive
Particle phrasal verbs
- intransitive
Type 2 phrasal verbPhrasal verbs
- transitive
Particle phrasal verbs
- transitive
Type 3 phrasal verbPrepositional verbsPrepositional phrasal verbs
Type 4 phrasal verbPhrasal-prepositional verbsParticle-prepositional phrasal verbs



Julia Robert said...

Thanks for sharing this nice post. Recognize the verb in a few sentence is necessary to understand what that statement stands for.

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