NG30. Phrasal verbs (1)

In English the meaning of a verb may be modified by a following word. Not every verb allows this and for those that do, only a few particular words are possible. In John dropped the parcel, the verb dropped means let fall, perhaps inadvertently. In John dropped off the parcel, the phrasal verb dropped off means delivered somewhere.

Often the additional word is one that can also be used as a preposition, as in The parcel dropped off the truck. John dropped up the parcel is bad because dropped up doesn’t exist as a phrasal verb. John dropped by the parcel is possible but only meaning that John collapsed alongside the parcel because dropped by as a phrasal verb can only be intransitive, synonymous with called in.

When forming a phrasal verb, the word is called a particle, not a preposition or an adverb. This post looks at the effects Network Grammar will have to account for.

Semantics of give up

In the sentences seen in earlier posts, a particle can be added after the give form. Depending on the sentence, the particle can appear in one particular place, or in one of two particular places, or nowhere at all. The particle up is used to investigate the possibilities.

Particle up is a good choice because it gives three distinct semantic effects with give. The three senses depend on the presence or absence of thematic relations:

  • grudge — reluctantly transfer ownership of something; give has agent + theme + goal or (passive only) theme + goal
  • quit — break a habit or surrender something; give has agent + theme or (passive only) theme alone
  • yield — abandon a struggle; give has agent alone or agent + goal (and cannot occur in a passive sentence).

‘Grudge’ sense

A scenario similar to the earlier one can be used, but now with the emperor reluctant to give. Variants of sentence (12) allow up in some post-verbal positions but not all:

(71) Nero is giving up Olivia to Poppaea

(72) Nero is giving Olivia up to Poppaea

(73) * Nero is giving Olivia to Poppaea up

Variants of sentence (17) To Poppaea Nero is giving Olivia with up on one or other side of Olivia also work.

Variants of (16) work only with up immediately after giving:

(74) Nero is giving up to Poppaea Olivia

(75) * Nero is giving to Poppaea up Olivia

(76) * Nero is giving to Poppaea Olivia up

Variants of sentence (20) Olivia Nero is giving to Poppaea are similar.

Variants of (24) don’t work whatever the position of up:

(77) * Nero is giving up Poppaea Olivia

(78) * Nero is giving Poppaea up Olivia

(79) * Nero is giving Poppaea Olivia up

‘Quit’ sense

The emperor stops his habitual abuse of the slave-girl. In variants of sentence (15) both positions of up are possible:

(80) Nero is giving up Olivia

(81) Nero is giving Olivia up

Sentence (82) can only be varied with up immediately post-verb as in (83). This is grammatical:

(82) Olivia Nero is giving

(83) Olivia Nero is giving up

‘Yield’ sense

The emperor concedes in an argument with his wife, perhaps about the slave-girl. Sentence (84) can only be varied with up before goal

:

(84) Nero is giving to Poppaea

(85) Nero is giving up to Poppaea

(86) * Nero is giving to Poppaea up

In (87) and (88), the only place for up is immediately post-verb. These are both grammatical:

(87) Nero is giving up

(88) To Poppaea Nero is giving up

Passives

In passive sentences, up can only appear immediately after given. For example, only one variant of (18) works:

(89) Olivia is given up to Poppaea by Nero

In that position, up forces the noun phrase immediately before the verb to be comprehended as theme. None of the following work with up:

(19) Poppaea is given Olivia by Nero

(22) Olivia Poppaea is given by Nero

(91) Poppaea is given by Nero Olivia

(92) By Nero Poppaea is given Olivia

Other passive sentences with to Poppaea or by Nero before and Olivia after the verb are bearable, for example:

(93) To Poppaea is given up Olivia by Nero

Pronoun as theme

For all ‘grudge’ and ‘quit’ sentences where theme is a pronoun, up cannot precede but must follow theme:

(94) Nero gave fiddling up

(95) Nero gave it up

(96) Nero gave up fiddling

(97) * Nero gave up it

Perhaps this is because particle-then-pronoun is semantically weak and easily mistaken for a preposition phrase. If so, it suggests that particle-immediately-after-verb is the unmarked case; the marked case applies to pronouns for the reason just given; and the marked case has come to be available for nouns, as in (94), by analogy with that.

Adjuncts

An adjunct before or between noun and particle causes a dubious sentence.

(98) Nero is giving up Olivia sadly to Poppaea

(99) Nero is giving Olivia up sadly to Poppaea

(100) ? Nero is giving Olivia sadly up to Poppaea

(101) ? Nero is giving up sadly Olivia to Poppaea

(102) * Nero is giving sadly up Olivia to Poppaea

(103) * Nero is giving sadly Olivia up to Poppaea

Note that sentences (101) to (103) are based on Nero is giving sadly Olivia to Poppaea, which is clunky even without the particle. (98), (101) and (102) are based on the unmarked sequence (particle immediately after verb). Sentences are increasingly bad the farther to the left that sadly occurs. Evidently verb then particle then noun is easiest to process.

Other points

One, where up can occur either before or after the theme noun, its position does not affect which of ‘grudge’ and ‘quit’ applies to the sentence. (71) and (72) are both ‘grudge’. (80) and (81) are both ‘quit’. (In ‘yield’ sentences, theme doesn’t occur.)

Two, the to-phrase can’t precede the particle except where it is fronted, as shown by variants of sentence (17):

(104) To Poppaea Nero is giving up Olivia

(105) To Poppaea Nero is giving Olivia up

Big topic

This post has been about the observable behaviour of give up. I need to dedicate another to the semantics before moving on to syntax.