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Please can people here help me with my understanding of phrasal verbs - thanks.

Ok, a phrasal verb is verb plus a particle. That particle can be a preposition or an adverb, however, when used with a verb to create a new meaning (indistinguishable from the definitions of the individual words) such a combination is called a phrasal verb.

In which case, in 'I looked over the fence' and 'I looked over the document', the latter is a phrasal verb as it has a meaning different from the meanings of the individual words, whereas the former doesn't and is simply a verb plus a preposition.

The above being the case, can we not apply the same logic to verb + adverb rather than verb + preposition? For example, in 'They tried to take out Saddam Husein' and 'Take out your rubbish bins', the former obviously has a meaning different from the meanings of the individual words and therefore is a phrasal verb. However, the latter doesn't seem to generate a seperate unit of meaning. 'Take' is a verb which means to get into one's hands and 'out' an adverb meaning away from. However, I believe people may disagree with mean on that last example and I'm not sure why.

Your thoughts please
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Hello Anon

I'm a learner from Japan, and I'm bad at usage of phrasal verbs like other learners. I've heard that how to define phrasal verbs varies among grammarians. It is true the sense of a phrasal verb is often very different from the sum of the lexical senses of the words used in the phrase. But the difference appears to be gradable, and I doubt if the degree of the difference could be a decisive factor for identifying a phrasal verb.

paco
Paco2004Hello Anon

I'm a learner from Japan, and I'm bad at usage of phrasal verbs like other learners. I've heard that how to define phrasal verbs varies among grammarians. It is true the sense of a phrasal verb is often very different from the sum of the lexical senses of the words used in the phrase. But the difference appears to be gradable, and I doubt if the degree of the difference could be a decisive factor for identifying a phrasal verb.

paco
I'd love to get to the bottom of this because I sometimes wonder if anyone really actually knows what a phrasal verb is. I'm sure they do, but I've read so much on them now and I still can't find the answer I am looking for.

The question is: How does one tell the difference between a phrasal verb and what is simply just a verb plus an adverb? For example, what makes 'take out' as in 'Take out the trash' a phrasal verb? 'Take' is a verb as in 'get in ones hands' and 'out' is an adverb meaning 'away from'. What special quality does this combination have that we distinguish it as a phrasal verb rather than just a verb and an adverb.

Btw, Paco, you said in one sentence that the meaning of the phrasal as a unit is often different and then went on to doubt if the degree of difference could decipher a phrasal verb. Well, if it is only 'often' then there must be some other aspect at play in deciphering phrasal verbs - no?
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Sorry, I see you said 'often very different'. Does this mean they are always different but some more than others? If so, then what of my example?
My thoughts.

I don't think it matters whether the combination of verb and particle has a literal meaning or an idiomatic meaning. If it operates as a unit, and the particle is not used as a preposition, then it's a phrasal verb.

I know that some definitions insist that some semantic factor be considered in granting such a combination the status of phrasal verb, but I don't see the value in that. To me the syntactic factor is much more important. If the combination works exactly like all other phrasal verbs, then - even if a literal expression - it should be considered a phrasal verb.

Take the girl out. Take her out.

a) Remove the girl from the premisses.
b) Go out on a date with the girl.
c) Kill the girl.

Do we really want a definition which requires knowing which of these three meanings "take out" has before we can decide if it's a phrasal verb? I say no.

To me it's a phrasal verb if the particle joins the verb as a unit; it's not a phrasal verb if the (potential) particle joins a following noun and thereby turns out to be a preposition.

"look over | the documents" - phrasal verb
"look | over the fence" - not a phrasal verb

CJ
CalifJimMy thoughts.

I don't think it matters whether the combination of verb and particle has a literal meaning or an idiomatic meaning. If it operates as a unit, and the particle is not used as a preposition, then it's a phrasal verb.

I know that some definitions insist that some semantic factor be considered in granting such a combination the status of phrasal verb, but I don't see the value in that. To me the syntactic factor is much more important. If the combination works exactly like all other phrasal verbs, then - even if a literal expression - it should be considered a phrasal verb.

Take the girl out. Take her out.

a) Remove the girl from the premisses.
b) Go out on a date with the girl.
c) Kill the girl.

Do we really want a definition which requires knowing which of these three meanings "take out" has before we can decide if it's a phrasal verb? I say no.

To me it's a phrasal verb if the particle joins the verb as a unit; it's not a phrasal verb if the (potential) particle joins a following noun and thereby turns out to be a preposition.

"look over | the documents" - phrasal verb
"look | over the fence" - not a phrasal verb

CJ

Thanks for your response, CJ.

My problem with phrasal verbs is a very specific one and it seems you grasp what it is, although, I may as well say that the issue of phrasals that are 'verb + prep' aren't an issue for me and just unnecessarily complicates things.

Obviously, terms like 'operating as a unit' are meaningless unless there is some element which defines what makes a 'unit'. You say it's syntatic but I don't see this syntatic element which makes 'take out' as in 'Take the trash out' a phrasal verb ('a unit') to be considered differently to other verbs and their modifiers.

The only thing I can take from your post is that maybe you are saying that a verb + adverb is a phrasal EVEN if together they DON'T bring about a new meaning, AS LONG AS the same form in another context WOULD bring about a different meaning. You can, therefore, identify such a phrasal by what it could mean in a different context.

If this is the case, then I'm not even sure that it's true. I'll have to think of other 'verb + adverb' that are generally considered to be phrasals but don't have a seperate meaning in any context, in order to prove this wrong. I will think about it.

Thanks for your response. Please come back to discuss further, if you feel you have more to add, because I'm determined to get to the bottom of this - thanks.
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the issue of phrasals that are 'verb + prep' aren't an issue for me
One point I was trying to make is that (the way I look at it) there is no such thing as "a phrasal that is 'verb + prep'". If a preposition is involved, then the verb plus that preposition cannot be considered a phrasal verb.
AS LONG AS the same form in another context WOULD bring about a different meaning
No. I didn't intend to leave that impression. But, as you said, I did intend to say that 'verb + adverb' can be a phrasal verb even the combination does not have a particularly idiosyncratic meaning.

terms like 'operating as a unit' are meaningless unless there is some element which defines what makes a 'unit'
Yes. This is what I found the most interesting part of what you wrote. However, as you will see below, I don't think it is actually an 'element' that defines a unit, but a series of comparisons which can show whether or not a 'verb + particle' forms a unit.

In my opinion, you may find it useful to consider the following tests for determining whether a verb and particle combination 'operate as a unit', in spite of the fact that the phrasal verb construction is contrasted with a prepositional verb construction - the latter being the one that is not an issue for you. In any case, these are suggested by Radford in Transformational Grammar. The examples do not deal with the case where the object is moved before the particle, but starting from these, you may be able to modify the specifics so that you may be able to work out the answer to your own question by applying the general technique to examples of your own choosing.

Look out the window.
Take out the trash.

Each test below shows that "look out" (as illustrated above) does not operate 'as a unit', but "take out" does.

Movement test:
He wanted to look out the window, so out he looked.
*He wanted to take out the trash , so out he took.

Sentence Fragment test:
-- Did he look out the window?
-- No, out the peephole.
-- Did he take out the trash?
-- *No, out the old newspapers.

Adverb Distribution test:
He looked carefully out the window.
*He took carefully out the trash.

Ordinary Coordination:
He looked out the window and over the fence.
*He took out the trash and in the newspapers.

Shared Constituent Coordination:
He looked - and his sister also looked - out the window.
*He took - and his sister also took - out the trash.

Ellipsis
He looked out the window, and his sister out the peephole.
*He took out the trash, and his sister out the old newspapers.

Let me repeat that I can see that these might not strike directly at the problem you are concerned with, but I do think that they might give you an idea about how you might like to proceed in further investigations along these lines.

CJ
Thanks for your response, CJ.

Your series of comparisons demonstrates when ‘out’ isn’t being used as a preposition. When this is shown to be so, maybe most would conclude that ‘out’, as in ‘take out the trash’, must therefore be part of a verb (a phrasal verb). However, I don’t know why it can’t therefore just as well be concluded that ‘out’, in such constructions, is simply an adverb.

The only relevant coparisons I can make to see whether ‘out’, as in ‘take out’, is an adverb or a particle, are with an adverbial:

Shall we go out this evening? Shall we go to Spain in August?

Where are you going? – out. Where are you going? – to Spain.

Did he go in? – no out. Did he go to France? – no Spain

He went, and his sister also - went out. He went, and his sister also – went to Spain.

…and so on…

I can’t see from the above how ‘out’ is behaving any differently from an adverbial. Can you?

Jussive
I don’t know why it can’t therefore just as well be concluded that ‘out’, in such constructions, is simply an adverb.
I don't know why either. Some authors do call these "particles" adverbs. However, the behavior of a "particle" is a sometimes a bit different from an adverb with regard to position in examples with direct objects:

Shall we take out the trash? *Shall we take to Spain the children?

Still, I don't see any objection to calling "out" an adverb. Its behavior in the example immediately above simply argues for calling "take out" a phrasal verb, no matter how literally we understand it.

(All of your examples, by the way, lack direct objects, so I'm not sure they are the best comparisons to use with "take out the trash". )

I suspect you want to call "went out" a verb and an adverb (not forming a phrasal verb) in "We went out to take a walk", and you want to call it a verb and a particle (forming a phrasal verb) in "The flame went out". That approach seems just fine, too.

I have a feeling that you may be looking for an extremely rigorous definition of "phrasal verb" which is regarded quite generally and uncontroversially as the "standard" definition. I'm not sure we're going to find that.

CJ
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