I'm looking at the function of prepositional phrases within a sentence, and particularly in this example as a part of a verb phrase. The example I have is:

I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek.

So in the first verb phrase, there is no prepositional phrase, the noun phrase is the direct object of the verb phrase. I remember the precise moment

In the second verb phrase, I think the prepositional phrase is acting as an adverb, as it describes the location of the verb. crouching behind a crumbling mud wall

In the third verb phrase, I'm not sure how the prepositional phrase functions. The preposition into is confusing me. It seems like the verb is "to peek into" and therefore the noun phrase is the direct object of the verb. I know there are such things as verb particles but I don't think this example is one of those, as it can't be restated with the preposition at the end. My other thought is that it's a phrasal verb, but I'm not sure if that's correct and if so, how to describe the preposition. As a verb phrase complement?

I'm really confused by this, any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance :)

3 Answers 3


You're asking about both constituency and dependency.

Constituency: Is "peek into" a phrasal verb or verb+preposition? So do we have [[peeking into][the alley]] or [peeking[into[the alley]]]? You did the right test to deduce "peek into" is not a phrasal verb. Also, no dictionary states "peek into" is a phrasal verb. This leave us with only the second option, where "into the alley" is a PP inside the VP where "peeking" is the head.

Dependency: When you ask about the function of the PP "into the alley", you're asking what constituent it depends on and what the nature (relationship) of this dependency is. "Peek" is probably analogous to "talk": it can appear without extra information (e.g. "he is talking", "he is peeking") or with extra info ("he is talking to her", "he is peeking over the wall"). This tells us that the PP "into the alley" is extra information and therefore an adjunct of "peeking". See this thread for the difference between arguments (or complements) and adjuncts.

  • "Whom it depends on" seems odd - I would only use "whom" for people, or at least animates.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 13:17

to peek - into the alley

to look - into the mirror

to go - into the house

to fall - into the pit

Such structures are verb + preposition group (a where-to indication).

If you analyze the structure as "go into - the house" and take "the house" as a direct object, then this is the wrong view. A direct object never answers the question where to.


I wonder if we can really exclude "peek into" from being a phrasal. The particle "into" does change the meaning after all. I'm just curious why you think it can't be a phrasal.

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