Basic English Syntax with Exercises


5.2.7 Phrasal verbs

It seems that it is only when the verb has a PP complement which consists only of a prepositional head that the preposition is allowed to move out of the PP. If the preposition itself has a complement, or if it is modified, then it is not allowed to move. It is not entirely clear why this should be, as other heads can move out of their own phrases when there are other elements in other positions within them. For example, we have seen many cases of a verb moving out of the VP when its specifier or complement are filled by its arguments. Another observation from (138) might help to shed some light on the problem. Note that when the verb has a simple PP complement, it has a different interpretation: to put something off does not mean the same as to put something somewhere. Similarly, put down, put on, put back, put over, etc. all have somewhat idiosyncratic meanings that are not simply related to the meaning of put as a verb of placement. So, put down can mean ‘to kill’ (of animals), put on ‘to fake’, put back ‘to delay’ and put over ‘to convey’. This might suggest that it is not the same verb we are looking at in all these cases and especially they are not the same verb as in (138b). If this is true then it could be that the ability of the preposition to move might be lexically restricted by the verb: some verbs allow it, others do not. Of course, this still does not explain why those that do allow the preposition to move only take ‘simple’ PP complements, which contain just the preposition and so we cannot be said to have solved all the mysteries of phrasal verbs here. In fact we have probably only just scratched the surface and it has to be admitted that phrasal verbs present many very difficult problems for analysis under any set of assumptions. We will therefore leave this topic at this point and be content with the meagre understanding of them that we have gained.