The Historical Rise of the English Phrasal Verb

George J. M. Lamont

copyright 2005

I.     Definitions
II.    Old English
III.   Middle English
IV.   Early Modern English
V.    Present-Day English
           Focus on Phrasal-prepositional Verbs
VI.   Syntactic Tests of Phrasal Verbs
VII.  Summary
VIII. For Further Reading
XI.   Glossary

I. Definition of the Phrasal Verb and Similar Concepts

A phrasal verb in Present-Day English is a verb that takes a complementary particle, in other words, an adverb resembling a preposition, necessary to complete a sentence. A common example is the verb “to fix up”: “He fixed up the car.” The word “up” here is a particle, not a preposition, because “up” can move: “He fixed the car up.” This movement of the particle “up” quickly distinguishes it from the preposition “up”. Because the forms of the particle and the preposition are themselves identical, it is easy to confuse phrasal verbs with a very similar-looking type of verb: the prepositional verb. A prepositional verb takes a complementary prepositional phrase. Movement verbs are readily identifiable examples. For example, the verb “to go” is intransitive, and without the benefit of context, it cannot operate in a complete sentence only accompanied by a subject. One cannot say, “I went,” and expect to satisfy a listener without including a prepositional phrase of place, such as “I went to the store.” Prepositional verbs are immediately distinguishable from phrasal verbs in terms of movement, as prepositions cannot move after their objects. It is not possible to say, “I went the store to,” and so “went” is a prepositional verb. There are, in fact, several syntactic tests to distinguish phrasal from prepositional verbs, and these will be discussed in detail in the final section. It is also necessary to understand that the term “verb phrase” refers not to phrasal verbs, but more generally to a sentence verb, its complements, and matters of tense, aspect, mood, voice and so on.

II. The Ancestors of Phrasal Verbs in Old English

Old English generally did not possess phrasal verbs as they are found in Present-Day English. They did exist, although they were rare. Much more common in Old English was the inseparable-prefix verb, a form in which the particle was attached to the beginning of the verb. These Old English prefixed verbs are directly comparable to current phrasal forms. For example, in Present-Day English, there is the monotransitive verb “to burn” and then the phrasal monotransitive “to burn up.” Old English had “bærnan” (to burn) and “forbærnan” (to burn up). The prefix “for-” remained affixed to the verb and could not move as modern particles can. Such Old English compound verbs were also highly idiomatic, in that the meaning of the compound form did not necessarily reflect the meaning of the root. Denison provides “berædan” as an example because it meant “to dispossess”, while its root verb, “rædan”, meant “to advise”. The phenomenon still survives today in the participle “forlorn”, as well as the verb “understandan”, which does not in Present-Day English mean “to stand underneath (something)”, but idiomatically “to comprehend”. Akimoto suggests that Old English prefixes often remained before the verb because Old English had strong object-before-verb (OV) tendencies, whereas Present-Day English is largely a VO language, which has made it possible for particles to travel to post-verbal positions. Some Old English verbs did function as modern phrasal verbs do. Denison (English 36) points out that Koopman finds and analyses examples of Old English phrasal verbs with post-verbal particles. In the Chronicles of England, the speaker says, “ac he teah forð þa his ealdan wrenceas” (but he drew forth his old tricks). Hence, there was in Old English the rare incidence of phrasal verbs with post-verbal particles. However, Denison notes about such examples that the meaning of post-verbal particles in this period was still often very directional, in close relationship with a prepositional meaning. Therefore, applications of the particle “up” in Old English conveyed a sense of direction upward, as in “to grow up(ward)”, rather than the completive sense, as in “to break up (completely)”, that would become more common in Middle English and beyond (Denison, “Origins”, 39, 41, 43). He argues that not until the Peterborough Chronicle did the completive sense appear (46).
III. The Introduction of Phrasal Verbs in Middle English as a Productive Form

The formation of prefixed verbs in Old English was no longer productive in Middle English, and the loss of productivity was already evident in Old English, in which certain authors added a post-verbal particle to prefixed verbs, possibly because the prefix was losing meaning (Denison, “Origins’, 47). Stress patterns also likely account for a shift, as prefixes in Old English compound verbs were unstressed, while post-verbal particles carried stress, making them stronger and thus preserving their lexical value. Middle English was also subject to the powerful forces of French and Anglo-Norman, as well to some influence from Old Norse. Several authors on the subject claim that Old Norse, which already had a fairly robust incidence of phrasal verbs, must have incited the production of English phrasal verbs with post-verbal particles, although the degree to which Old Norse is responsible for this is unclear (Smith 140, Fischer 386). The rapid borrowing of French verbs into Middle English likely slowed the development of phrasal verbs (Baugh and Cable 340, Fischer 386) because of competition in semantic fields, as French brought in Romance verbs that could fill the semantic fields of the Old English prefixed verbs. For example, the French borrowing “destroy” could accommodate the meaning of Old English “forbrecan” (break up) (Smith 140). French forms also likely hindered phrasal verbs because of lexical register. French was the language of status in England after the Norman Conquest, and phrasal verbs, while common by the fourteenth century (Millward 179), were considered informal (Tanabe 123, Fischer 398). Nonetheless, phrasal verbs regained strong productivity by the fifteenth century (Fischer 386). Tanabe notes the occurrence of 162 phrasal verbs in The Paston Letters, despite the formal quality of those letters, and the incidence of “to give up” in the Peterborough Chronicle. Middle English underwent a shift in syntax from many instances of SOV to SVO as it lost many synthetic inflections (and consequently possible word orders) from Old English, becoming a much more analytic, or word-order based, language. The new VO word order, as Akimoto claims, likely enabled the prefixes of Old English to become post-positioned adverbial particles. In other words, Old English “forbrecan” became “to break up”. By late Middle English, phrasal verbs could be divided into 3 categories: a) Old English-style inseparable particle + verb (understand, overtake); b) phrasal verbs including verb + separable particle (take up, write up); and c) nominal compounds derived from the first two (outcry, write-off) (Fischer 386).

IV. The Rise of the Phrasal Verb in Early Modern English

The incidence of phrasal verbs exploded in Early Modern English. Shakespeare himself applied the form widely throughout the plays. Hiltunen cites a study by Castillo, in which 5744 phrasal verbs have been identified within the body of the plays. Nevalainen (423) also notes Spasov’s study, which analysed 46 plays from the Renaissance to Present-Day English, finding that phrasal verbs remained “below ten per cent of the total of all verbs from his four Early Modern English subperiods, but does exceed the five per cent level from about 1600 onwards.” Hiltunen explains that phrasal verbs were used extensively in Early Modern English dramatic texts because of their variable shades of meaning and productive capacity “to be expanded to form new idioms” (161). Akimoto notes also that “phrasal verbs occur more frequently in letters and dramas than in essays or academic writing” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (221). This confirms that phrasal verbs occupied a lower social position in Early Modern English than, perhaps, single Latinate verbs that could fill their semantic fields, which gives rise, incidentally, to a syntactic test for phrasal verbs. However, phrasal verbs continued to become entrenched. Stage-three compound nouns arose, such as “breakdown” and “comeback”. The stress on the particle in the verbal form (we say, “I have to break DOWN these boxes) moved from the particle to the verbal component when the compound acted as a noun (as in, “he had a BREAKdown”). Phrasal verbs in Early Modern English also could be formed with a noun + particle, such as “to louse up” (Millward 319). It was also in this period that pronominal objects were firmly established before particles (“She put it on” not *She put on it) as a standard practice, while nominal objects retained movement before and after the particle (She put the dress on / She put on the dress).

V. Phrasal Verbs in Present-Day English, and Regional Variation

Phrasal verbs are still currently productive, and there has been the rise of a more complex form, the three-part phrasal-prepositional verb, which includes a verb, a post-positioned particle, and a complementary prepositional phrase. Examples of the first type include “put up with” and “do away with”, which qualify as phrasal verbs because they can be translated by the single Latinate verbs “tolerate” and “abolish”, although their particles are not movable: “I put up with traffic every day”, not *I put with traffic up every day.

Focus: The phrasal-prepositional verb and its terms explained

First, consider this sample sentence:

     She puts up with her brother. (S   V Prt    Prep. Phrase)

Components of the sentence (what the terms mean):

1. Subject (the agent or “doer” of the action): She

2. Lexical verb (the verb-word that carries the meaning of the action): puts

3. Post-positioned particle (an adverb that looks like a preposition, and follows the lexical verb, called “post (after)-positioned (placed): up. This particle isn’t movable: *She puts ___ with her brother up. Its inability to move is the result of the lack of an explicit direct object. Quirk et al. call this a “Type I phrasal-prepositional verb” (1161). 

4. Complementary prepositional phrase (prepositional phrase necessary to complete the basic sense of the sentence): with her brother. We know “with” is a preposition because it definitely cannot move behind the object of the preposition (brother): *She puts up ___ her brother with.

5. Translation: using another single-word verb to replace a compound structure like this one. We can translate the sentence from “she puts up with her brother” to “she tolerates her brother”. Through translation, we can eliminate both the particle “up” and the preposition “with”, suggesting that we can consider “to put up with” as a single lexical unit, a single, transitive verb structure.

6. Prepositional object: nouns that follow prepositions are generally considered objects of prepositions, not direct objects. However, because of the ability to translate “to put up with” as “to tolerate”, we can suggest that “brother” is really the semantic (true meaning) direct object of the verb, even though syntactically (in actual structural form and word order) it appears to be the object of a preposition. In such a case, we can call nouns such as “brother” in such cases “prepositional objects”. 

A second variation of phrasal-prepositional verbs (type II) in Present-Day English takes a movable particle around a noun-phrase direct object as well as a complementary prepositional phrase, as in “she fixed her friend up with her cousin / she fixed up her friend with her cousin.” The notable distinctions from type I are (1) that the particle can move, because (2) there is an explicit direct object. The proliferation of the various types of phrasal verbs is alleged to be more productive in North America than in Britain. Traugott asserts that the use of phrasal verbs is a distinguishing feature between British and American English (173). Her claim that phrasal senses of verbs are often not cited in the OED still proves true in some cases, such as “to build up” meaning “to advertise or promote”. The 32 intervening years between Traugott’s 1972 study and the current state of the OED have seen updates to the dictionary in this respect. The introduction to British English of what Traugott calls “Americanisms” is restoring the powerful productivity of phrasal verbs across regions. In support of this, Baugh and Cable cite an interesting fact from Kennedy’s 1920 study, that twenty common English verbs had at that time entered into 155 combinations with particles, yielding 600 distinct meanings (340).

VI. Syntactic Tests for Phrasal Verbs in Present-Day English

Jeremy Smith, in his brief discussion of phrasal verbs in Present-Day English, lumps together the following verbs as phrasal: “burn down”, “come across”, and “talk [someone] into” (140). However, this brief sample from Smith’s list contains not only a phrasal verb, but a prepositional verb and a phrasal-prepositional verb as well. Syntactic tests can clear away such confusion, and a knowledge of such tests is indispensable for anyone studying phrasal verbs.

Syntactic tests for phrasal verbs:

1. Particle movement: particles for transitive phrasal verbs can move either before or after the direct object, and this will determine whether the word in question is a particle or a preposition. For example, “I gave up the keys / I gave the keys up.” The “up” is a particle because it can move. If it were a preposition, “up” could not move: “I walked up the stairs”, but not *I walked the stairs up. As a side note, particle movement is generally not possible with gerunds: “I gave up trying” but not *I gave trying up. Particle movement is also restricted with pronouns: “I helped her out”, not *I helped out her. Particle movement is also unhelpful in analysing intransitive phrasal verbs as there is no complementary noun phrase to facilitate movement.

2. Adverb intervention: Adverbs cannot be placed within the verb phrase, including verb, particle, and object, but must be placed before the verb or at the end: “I help out Sheila often / I help Sheila out often / I often help out Sheila”, but not * I help often out Sheila, I help out often Sheila, I help often her out. Adverbs can, however, be placed between verbs and prepositional phrases: “I went quickly into the room.”

3.  Spoken stress: particles are stressed in phrasal verbs, but prepositions are unstressed (unless stressed emphatically in speech). Therefore, one says, “I gave up the keys” (“up” is stressed – particle, transitive phrasal verb) or “the plane touched down” (“down” is stressed – particle, intransitive phrasal verb). A true preposition is unstressed: “I walked up the stairs” (unstressed – preposition, prepositional verb).

4. Translation / synonymy: Phrasal verbs can be translated with a single-unit verb of the same illocutionary force. Therefore, “give up” can be translated as the clearly transitive “relinquish” or “surrender”, while “touch down” can be translated by the clearly intransitive “land”. Translation, however, is not reliable as the sole or even primary method of syntactic testing. Quirk et al. discuss the possibility of translating certain prepositional verbs with single-unit transitive verbs. For example, the sentence “She looked after her son” could be translated “She tended her son” (1155-6). Obviously, “after” is not a particle, as it lacks stress and movement, but this style of analysis, still unresolved in descriptive grammar, confirms the wisdom of using other tests when checking for phrasal verbs. Phrasal-prepositional verbs are also difficult to analyse by this means alone because of the possibility to translate them with single-unit transitive verbs.

5. Passivization: Transitive phrasal verbs can be rendered in the passive for two reasons: because they are transitive and have the capacity for the inversion of logical subjects and objects, and because doing so does not violate the syntactic frame of a prepositional phrase. Therefore, the sentence, “I gave up the keys” can be rendered in the passive: “The keys were given up by me.” However, a prepositional verb at least prescriptively resists rendering in the passive: “I walked up the stairs” would not traditionally be rendered thus in the passive: “The stairs were walked up by me”, even though “to walk up” could be translated with the transitive verb “to ascend”, which could easily be rendered in the passive. However, as Denison discusses at length, and as Quirk et al. point out (1156-7), prepositional verbs have been rendered increasingly in the passive. Therefore, passivization is also by no means a stand-alone syntactic test of phrasal verbs.

VII. Summary

The Old English ancestors of modern phrasal verbs were generally inseparable-prefix verbs, although some separable forms did exist. The influences of the Norman Conquest and Old Norse on ME eroded Old English OV syntax, and this catalyzed the production of separable adverbial particles and the phrasal verb in Middle English. In Early Modern English, phrasal verbs grew rapidly in dramatic and less formal texts, while new nominal-derivative compounds and rules about pronominal-object placement arose. In Present-Day English, phrasal verbs are identifiable by particle movement (when transitive), stressed particles, incapacity for adverb intervention in the verb phrase, translation, and passivization. Prepositions can be distinguished because they cannot move, they are unstressed, and adverbs can intervene between the verb and the prepositional phrase.

VIII. For Further Reading

Descriptive Grammars

Brinton, Laurel J. The Structure of Modern English: A Linguistic Introduction. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2000.

· This book is extremely useful because it describes the difference between phrasal and prepositional verbs using sentence-tree analysis. The description of syntactic tests is concise, but complete and accurate.
Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartnik. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London and New York: Longman, 1985.
· The descriptions of phrasal, prepositional, and phrasal-prepositional verbs in sections 16.3 to 16.8 are extensive and authoritative. This is indeed an excellent source suitable for almost any descriptive-grammatical inquiry.

Historical Accounts of Phrasal Verbs

Akimoto, Minoji. “Collocations and Idioms in Late Modern English.” Collocational and Idiomatic Aspects of Composite Predicates in the History of English. Eds. Laurel J. Brinton and Minoji Akimoto. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1999.

· Discussion of the relationship between OV/VO syntax and prefixed vs. post-positioned particles in phrasal verbs.
Denison, David. English Historical Syntax: Verbal Constructions. London and New York: Longman, 1993.
· Discussion of Willem Koopman’s important analysis of separable-particle phrasal verbs in Old English, as well as illustrative of the growth of the prepositional passive in Middle English.
Denison, David. “The Origins of Completive ‘up’ in English.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 86: 37-61.
· Although this article focuses upon the specific particle “up”, Denison covers many of the important issues of phrasal verbs in general, such as idiomaticity, the rise of the post-verbal particle and fall of the prefix, and the evolution of the particle from a spatial or directional sense to a completive sense.
Fischer, Olga. “Syntax.” The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol 2. Ed. Norman Blake, Gen Ed. Richard Hogg. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1992.
· Comparison of concurrent OE prefixed and ME separable-particle verbs, discussion of Norse and French sources phrasal-verb productivity.
Hiltunen, Risto. “Verbal Phrases and Phrasal Verbs in Early Modern English.” Collocational and Idiomatic Aspects of Composite Predicates in the History of
English. Eds. Laurel J. Brinton and Minoji Akimoto. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1999.
· Uses of phrasal verbs in dramatic texts including Shakespeare.
Nevalainen, Terttu. “Early Modern English Lexis and Semantics.” The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol 3. Ed. Roger Lass, Gen Ed. Richard Hogg. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1992.
· Details of incidence of phrasal verbs in texts.
Rissanen, Matti. “Syntax.” The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol 3. Ed. Roger Lass, Gen Ed. Richard Hogg. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1992.
· Discussion of “preposition stranding” and the prepositional passive, placement of pronominal objects with phrasal verbs.
Tanabe, Harumi. “Composite Predicates and Phrasal Verbs in The Paston Letters.” Collocational and Idiomatic Aspects of Composite Predicates in the History of English. Eds. Laurel J. Brinton and Minoji Akimoto. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1999.
· Details of incidence of phrasal verbs in The Paston Letters and The Peterborough Chronicle, and the relative informality of phrasal verbs in Middle English.

Introductory Discussions

Baugh, Albert C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993.

Millward, C. M. A Biography of the English Language. 2nd ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Smith, Jeremy. A Historical Study of English. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Traugott, Elizabeth C. The History of English Syntax. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

History of Linguistic Scholarship on Phrasal Verbs

Sroka, Kazimierz A. The Syntax of English Phrasal Verbs. The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1972.

· This work is useful in that it recounts many authors on the subject, although Sroka’s book is directed at criticizing other authors’ views on the matter. A very linguistic book, useful to the advanced reader.

IX. Glossary

complementary – a component of a sentence required to complete the meaning. Ex. “I broke.” Broke what? “I broke the lamp.” Most types of verbs require some necessary component, or “complement”, to complete its meaning. In this case, it requires a direct object (the lamp).

adverb – a word that modifies verbs with information like where, when, how, and why. Adverbs that are complementary in verb phrases are generally called particles. So, in “I fixed up the house”, the word “up” is an adverb, but because it is required to complete this sense of the verb, it is more exactly called a verbal particle.

preposition – a word that shows position, direction, or location. Words of this group include in, at, on, through, etc.

intransitive – the root “transit” means “goes across” in Latin. A transitive verb “sends across” its action to a direct object: “I broke the glass.” The action of breaking goes across to the glass, which receives that action. An intransitive verb does not require a direct object. There are two main kinds: movement verbs with a complementary adverbial (I went to the store), and other action verbs that do not require an adverbial (I cried. I slept).

syntactic tests – ways of testing different grammatical structures to determine whether they are what we think they are. For an example of a syntactic test, we can test whether a verb is transitive by asking whether we feel it must be followed by a noun: “I broke.” If we ask, “broke what?”, then the verb is likely transitive.

aspect – an element of analysing verbs. Aspect shows how much an action is completed. “I am swimming” – progressive aspect (incomplete, still happening). “I was swimming” – imperfect aspect (incomplete in past, also called past progressive, still happening in past at time of context). “I have swum” (perfect aspect – perfect means “done through all the way” in Latin, means totally finished). “I had swum” (pluperfect or “more than perfect” aspect, completed before another action in the past).

mood – another element of analysing verbs. Mood shows factuality. Indicative “I am a man” indicates something believed by the speaker to be true. Subjunctive “If I were a man,…” describes a hypothetical situation, often found in conditional (“if”) sentences. Imperative “Be a man!” is a command (“imperare” in Latin means “to order”).

post-verbal – after the verb, whereas the Old English compound verbs had particles prefixed.

productive – able to take on new words in the pattern or existing words in new uses as the language evolves. Imagine if we acquired the verb “*to blork”. Because prefixed verbs are no longer productive, it’s extremely unlikely English speakers would then develop the form “to forblork”, but very likely we would come up with “to blork (something) up”.

semantic fields – a semantic field is an area of meaning for a word. Many words have more than one. For example, “to fix” means “to repair” in one semantic field, but also “to castrate”, such as with pets, in another semantic field. As English acquires new words, existing words may lose a semantic field if the new word has the same meaning, or “competes in the same semantic field”.

lexical register – “Lexics” or lexical things are words with meaning. However, economic class or education can lead native speakers in the same neighbourhood to use different words. A lexical register refers to the specific sets of words within a language that members of such sub-groups use. A lexical register commonly mentioned in speech is “upper-class English”.

syntax – Syntax is the matter of word arrangement. Very often, the syntax (word order) can differ from the actual meaning of a structure or sentence. This is easily visible in the passive voice. We can say, “He broke the window” and that “he” is the subject (doer) of the sentence. However, if we change the syntax to passive, we can say, “The window was broken by him” and that “the window” is the subject of the sentence. Syntactically (in terms of its position in the sentence), it is the subject. But semantically (in actual meaning), “he” is the subject.

synthetic inflections – These are all but lost in English. They are endings on nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs that demonstrate grammatical information now largely communicated through syntax (word order). Old English had them, as did Latin, as does German. Latin words still used in their original forms in English demonstrate the role of inflections. Consider graduates from a university. A single, male one is an alumnus (-us = single, male, subject of sentence). A single, female one is an alumna (-a = single, female, subject). Two or more males are alumni. Two or more females are alumnae. One surviving example of an inflection in Present-Day English is the variant spelling of people with blond hair. Used as a noun, a man with blond hair is a “blond”; a female a “blonde”. The final (-e) reflects the French inflection for feminine. This is not consistent among English speakers, but we do have inflections such as “s” to mark the plural, “-’s” for the possessive, as well as “-s” in the third-person singular. English pronouns also retain evidence of inflection. We say “I” for the subject of a sentence and “me” for an object. These “-s” endings on nouns and variant spellings of present-day pronouns constitute the last vestiges of synthetic inflections in Present-Day English.

analytic – This is the effective opposite of synthetic inflections. An analytic language (such as Present-Day English) relies on the order of words to preserve the intended meaning of a sentence. In Latin, the sentence, “Amicus meus illam feminam amat” means “My friend loves that woman,” almost no matter how the words are arranged, because the endings, or synthetic inflections, communicate enough grammatical information that we know which is the subject and which is the object.” In English, toying with the word order in sentences such as this is dangerous, and likely to end up in a loss of meaning. We know that a subject generally comes first, then the verb, and then the direct object after the verb. This is a characteristic of an analytic language.

nominal – means “noun”

compound nouns – English, as a Germanic language, has a tremendous tendency and potential to form two nouns together to describe a more specific concept, by placing one noun in front, much like an adjective. Consider the word “snack time”. “Snack” is a noun; so is “time”. But if “snack” makes “time” more specific, is “snack” an adjective? No. This is a compound noun, just like “mailbox”, “schoolyard”, and “policeman”. Compound nouns undergo three predictable stages, although the second is sometimes skipped. Stage one: mail box. Stage two: mail-box (hyphenation – common with merged last names). Stage three: mailbox (complete compounding).

pronominal – means “pronoun”

direct object – the noun or noun phrase that directly receives the action of a transitive verb. See the note on “illocutionary force” for a more detailed look at types of objects and how to tell among them.

illocutionary force – applied to verbs, this describes the transitivity of the verb and determines the necessary complements. There are 3 categories, broken down into 11 common types (there are actually a few more)

Transitive: all take a direct object. But many take something more.
monotransitive – takes a direct object (“mono” = Greek “one” – one type of object). Ex. “I broke the glass.”
monotransitive phrasal – takes a direct object as well as a particle. Ex. “I broke down the boxes / I broke the boxes down.”
monotransitive phrasal-prepositional – takes a direct object, a moveable particle, and a prepositional phrase. Ex. “I set up my friend with my sister’s friend / I set my friend up with my sister’s friend.”
ditransitive – takes two (“di”) types of objects: direct and indirect. Ex. “I gave a present to my mother.” Direct objects are almost always objects; indirect objects are almost always people (or animals) that receive the direct object.
complex-transitive – takes a direct object and an object complement (something that is equal to the direct object). Ex. “I consider him my friend.” This can be broken down into two sentence complements, the second connected by a form of “to be”: “I consider him. He is my friend.”

pure intransitive – Action verbs that do not require any complement at all (this is the only kind). Ex. I cried. I slept.
intransitive prepositional – Usually verbs of motion that require an adverbial prepositional phrase indicating where the motion is going. Ex. I went to the store.
intransitive diprepositional – The rarest of all types, requiring two prepositional phrases in order for the sentence to be complete. Ex. I confer with my colleague about every decision.

Copular (also called Intensive or Linking) – connects ideas (Copula = Latin “connection”)
“Be” verbs – can take nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adjectival prepositional phrases as complements. Ex. I am a man. It is I (very often in speech used with “me”, although this is technically incorrect). I am short. I am in the basement.
pseudo-copular – verbs like “appear”, “become”, “seem”. Each takes it own idiomatic set of complements used by true “be verbs”.
sense verbs – The transitive set of sense verbs (see, smell, hear, feel, taste) has also taken on a copular force. “See” in the copular is replaced by “look”. Compare the examples: I see the man. The man looks strange (The man is strange). This pair-comparison works for all five sense verbs.

passive – one of the two “voices” in Present-Day English verbs. Active voice is a way of constructing a sentence so that the semantic (real) subject is the also the syntactic (word-order or also called grammatical) subject. Ex. I broke the glass (“I” is the actual subject, and the grammatical subject). The passive voice is a method of writing sentences in which the lexical verb (one that carries the real action – he semantic verb) is converted to a participle (a verb acting like an adjective) while a form of “to be” or sometimes “to get” is inserted as the syntactic verb. The passive voice is favourable to the active when the true subject is not known or is not important, or when the direct object is considered more important information than the true subject.

Ex. The glass (grammatical subject but semantic direct object) was (Verb) broken (lexical verb written as participle) by me (prepositional phrase showing the “agent” or real subject).

END of document.