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Prepositional Verbs and Verb Phrase Complements

Verbs are traditionally defined as “words that indicate action or state of being.” English verbs may be either transitive or intransitive. Transitive verbs require direct objects and may also take indirect objects. For example, the verb eat in the rabbit ate the lettuce is transitive because of the direct object the lettuce. Conversely, intransitive verbs cannot or do not take objects. For example, the verb dream in the girl had been dreaming is intransitive because of the lack of direct object in the predicate.

Prepositional Verbs

Among the intransitive verbs in English is a category known as prepositional verbs. Similar to phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs are a common verb form in the English language that consist of a verb followed by a preposition. For example, the following English verbs are prepositional verbs:

  • approve of
  • argue about
  • fear for
  • listen to
  • rely on

Prepositional verbs are intransitive verbs because prepositional verbs cannot take objects. For example:

  • The art critic looked at the painting. (correct)
  • *The art critic looked the painting. (incorrect)
  • His parents have been arguing about money. (correct)
  • *His parents have been arguing money. (incorrect)
  • His parents have been arguing. (correct)

Verb Phrase Complements

Although prepositional verbs resemble phrasal verbs in that both verb forms consist of a verb followed by a preposition, the main differences between prepositional and phrasal verbs is the grammatical function of the preposition. When part of a phrasal verb, the preposition — which is more accurately known as a p-word rather than a preposition — functions as a particle. Such prepositions functioning as particles may separate from the verb and appear after the direct object. For example:

  • The storm blew my shed down.
  • The couple called the wedding off.
  • A little girl made the story up.
  • We have finally paid the bank back.
  • The toddler took his diaper off.

However, when part of a prepositional verb, the preposition functions as a verb phrase complement. A verb phrase complement is a word or phrase that completes the meaning of the verb. Unlike particles, verb phrase complements must directly follow the verb. For example:

  • The bride insisted on the blue flowers for her bouquet. (correct)
  • *The bride insisted for her bouquet on the blue flowers. (incorrect)
  • Many adults believed in monsters as children. (correct)
  • *Many adults believed as children in monsters. (incorrect)

Prepositional verbs are a common verb form in the English language that are formed by a verb followed by a preposition that functions as a verb phrase complement. Prepositional verbs differ from phrasal verb in the function of the preposition.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O’Dwyer, Bernard T. 2000. Modern English structures: Form, function, and position. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

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