Verb-Particle Constructions in the English Language

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2021

19 Pages, Grade: 2.0


Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Classifications of verb particles

3 The Verb Particle Construction as a small clause

4 The verb particle construction as a Complex Head

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

The well-known discussion of the Verb-Particle Constructions (VPCs) occurs in “most, if not all, of the Germanic language’’ (Dehé 2002: 1). In literature it is also known as verb-particle combinations, phrasal verbs, separable (complex) verbs or particle verbs (cf. Dehé ibid.). Formally, verb particle constructions consist of a particle, “a verbal stem and an intransitive prepositional or adverbial element’’ (Olsen 2000: 149). “There is no uncontroversial definition of particles which reliably demarcates them from similar items and has cross-linguistic validity’’ (Dehé et al. 2002:3). The following general definition is offered by Dehé et al. (2002):

“A particle is an accented element which is formally (and, often, semantically) related to a preposition, which does not assign case to a complement and which displays various syntactic and semantic symptoms of what may informally called a close relationship with a verb, but without displaying the phonological unity with it typical of affixes’’ (ibid.).

Dehé (2002) states that “the perhaps most striking property of transitive PV’s in English is their appearance in two alternating orders’’ (3) as the English particle can appear on either the side of a direct object. In the so-called continuous order the particle is “adjacent to the verb and precedes the DP-complement’’ as in (1) (Dehé 2002: 3 f.). “The particle follows the DP-object’’ in the discontinuous order (cf. (2)) (ibid.). The use of unstressed pronouns is obligatory in this order, as illustrated in (3) (ibid.). The following examples are borrowed from Dehé (2002) as well.

(1) Verb Particles : Continuous Order

a. He wiped off the table.
b. He took out the lady.
c. He looked up the information.

(2) Verb Particles : Discontinuous Order

a. He wiped the table off.
b. He took the lady out.
c. He looked the information up.

(3) Unstressed Pronouns

a. He wiped it off.
b. *He wiped off it.
c. He took her out.
d. *He took out her.

Verb particle constructions can appear in transitive (cf.(4)), intransitive (cf.((5)) and in more complex constructions (cf.(6)) (cf. Dehé 2002:2f., the examples are borrowed from there too).

(4) Transitive Particle Verbs

a. Nicole finished off her Thesis.
b. The woman had been hanging out the clothes.
c. He put down his coffee cup.
d. The professor handed out the papers.

(5) Intransitive Particle Verbs

a. The prices came down last month.
b. The months went by.
c. The two girls were growing up.
d. Unexpectedly, another opportunity turned up.

(6) Complex Particle Verb Constructions

a. Andrew will print his teacher out a copy.
b. Valerie packed her daughter up a lunch.
c. Susan poured the man out a drink.
d. The crew handed the passengers back the passport.

((d.) is taken from Radford 1997: 444)

The continuous order is in English a criterion for the distinction between elements that can function as particles and elements that cannot (cf. Dehé 2002: 4). At first sight, verb particle constructions in continuous order might ambiguously look like adverbial or prepositional constructions because the simple English particle are generally homomorph with special prepositions such as “up, out, in, off’’ or with simple adverbs such as “away, back, together’’ (cf. Dehé ibid.:4). According to Olsen (2000), “the true test of a particle verb in English […] is the ability of the particle to appear together with the verb stem in front of a common direct object’’, thus in the continuous order. For adverbs, the position preceding the direct object is not a “typical position’’ and those are “more naturally found in the final position in the clause’’ (ibid.). As a result, only those adverbial elements “constitute the potential class of particles’’ which are permissible in the position in front of the direct object (cf. (7); borrowed from Olsen 2000: 152).

(7) Continuous Order

a. Particles

Nicole carried out, in, up, down, along, around, back the basket.

b. Pure adverbs

Nicole carried/pushed upwards, inside, ahead, together the chairs.

This test has also been suggested as a distinguishing criterion between prepositional verbs and verb particles (cf. (8) taken from Dehé 2002: 4). Particles, but not prepositions, occur in the position adjacent to the verb.

(8) (a) Prepositional Verbs vs. (b.) Particle Verbs

a. He walked up the road.

*He walked the road up.

He is getting off the bus.

*He is getting the bus off.

b. He picked up the handout.

He picked the handout up.

He turned off the lights.

He turned the lights off.

Only a subset of prepositional verbs and adverbs “is permissible in the in the pre-direct object particle position’’. This provides definite evidence for the necessity of category “participle’’ in English grammar (Olsen 2000:153).

There are many different approaches to the syntactic structure of verb particle constructions, which linguists have developed. Concerning the syntactic structure of English verb particle constructions, I have outlined two main questions which I want to analyze. The first question is, how the syntactic structure of verb particle constructions do look like in English and the second one is which of the word orders could be or is the underlying one. This paper begins with mentioning the basic characteristics of English verb particle constructions by different Linguists like Dehé, Ishikawa, Wurmbrand and Lindner. In the third chapter I will present the Small Clause Analysis by Dehé for verb particle constructions in English. Chapter four is dealing with the alternation between the continuous verb particle construction and the discontinuous order. The alternation between the two options is not free, which I will show. Various factors have been suggested in literature that govern this alternation. Most of these factors will reduce to one point, namely the theory of information structure. I will show that with the continuous order as the underlying or neutral one, the choice of word order is influenced by the information structure of the context in which the relevant verb particle construction in embedded.

2 Classifications of verb particles

Different groups of verb particle constructions have been distinguished in the literature, mainly with regard to their semantic properties, but also with respect to their syntactic behavior (cf. Dehé 2002:5). There is a common distinction between three groups: the first one are semantically compositional or transparent verb particle constructions (cf.(9)), the second one idiomatic verb particle constructions (cf.(10)) and the third one aspectual verb particle constructions (cf.(11)) (cf. Dehé ibid.).

Compositional verb particle constructions (cf. (9)) have a literal meaning made up of the literal meanings of the verb and the particle. The particle has usually a “directional or spatial meaning’’ and “can often be replaced by an appropriate (directional) PP’’ (Dehé ibid.:5; the examples are taken from Dehé ibid.:6).

(9) Compositional Verb Particle Constructions

a. Sheila carried { in } the bags { in } (into the house).

b. Sam took { out } the clothes { out } (out of the suitcase).

c. The lady put the hat on / on her head.

d. Sheila put the books away / on the shelf / there.


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Verb-Particle Constructions in the English Language
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verb-particle, constructions, english, language
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Dilan Ali (Author), 2021, Verb-Particle Constructions in the English Language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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