I am not sure how one can see the difference between these three. I can give an example of the three - respectively come in, went into and got along without - but I don't know why these are what they are. Can some one explain these terms as clearly and simplistic as possible?

An example of how I am confused: One could state that a phrasal verb consists of a verb and an adverbial participle. Sure they can. But how do they know that that adverbial participle (e.g. in) is not a preposition?

I do think that the following is true to make a distinction: when talking of a prepostional verb, there can't be any syntactic spot between the verb and the participle. E.g. They called him up (Phrasal) They called on him (Prepositional) Would that be a possibility? Or is that rubbish?


At first, a general remark on terminology. There are many theories of how to analyze such constructions. Some linguists even refuse to treat them as "phrasal verbs", e.g. the authors of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

Secondly, I do not endorse any particular analysis here, nor do I wish to criticize or contrast competing proposals. I simply tried to reconstruct someone else's proposal. I also tried to explain it using very simple words, without theory-specific terminology.

I'm not entirely sure whose theory you're trying to describe (references would be extremely helpful). Here's what the authors of the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English say on this - since what you are trying to describe seems similar to their proposal.

They mention three tests that help you distinguish between a phrasal verb, a prepositional verb, and a phrasal prepositional verb:

  • idiomatic meaning
  • particle movement
  • wh-questions

A phrasal verb under this analysis is a combination of a verb and a particle (not participle!) that has some idiomatic interpretation (get along). You can't really figure out the meaning of "get along" by adding "get" and "along".

Now about prepositional vs. adverbial particles. Under this proposal, if you can insert some material between a verb and a particle, that particle is adverbial (look up a word - look it up; pick up the phone - pick the phone up). On the other hand, a verb and a preposition are inseparable (look at the book - look at it - *look the book at).

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