These exercises are intended for intermediate to advanced students of
English who realise they have a problem understanding the meaning of
Phrasal Verbs, i.e. verb + preposition or adverb combinations such as give up, turn off.
Native speakers almost never have problems understanding phrasal verbs,
even new combinations which have only recently been invented. They don’t
need to look them up in a dictionary because native speakers have an
internal mechanism which enables them to discover the meaning autonomously.
Each word of the phrasal verb combination spontaneously evokes an image
in their minds which, when applied to the situation in which they hear
or see the words used, suggests the new meaning to them. The new meaning
does not come from nowhere, it is closely related to the old meanings
in each part of the phrasal verb. Non-native speakers can learn to function
in the same way.
Many words evoke spontaneous images in the minds of native speakers.
This is particularly true of words which refer to physical, spacial
events or relationships, e.g. go, jump, up, round.
We are in direct contact with the physical world through our senses
: seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, smelling. When words evoke images
in our minds of the physical world we have a direct feeling of their
meaning without needing to use intellectual analysis or translate through
another language. In general, by intermediate level, the common motion
verbs evoke images for English students that are the same as, or reasonably
close to, those they evoke for native speakers. This is often not the
case for certain preposition/adverb particles - words such as over,
at, about where images from their native language continue
to be spontaneously evoked. Fortunately, unlike verbs, they are limited
in number and those frequently used to form phrasal verbs even fewer
- about a dozen or so.
To describe non-physical, non-spacial events and relationships (time,
emotion, economics, for example) all languages use metaphors taken from
the physical world. This is particularly true in the case of phrasal
verbs which often have both a physical and a metaphorical or derived
meaning, sometimes even several metaphorical meanings depending on the
context in which they are used. (e.g. He made up a story.
She made up her face.) In nearly all cases, being able
to evoke the physical image helps to find the metaphorical or derived
on understanding phrasal verbs
The problem for
the English student is first of all understanding the meaning of the
preposition/adverb particle, words such as on, in, for; knowing whether they are used as prepositions or adverbs
is a secondary problem. In these exercises we concentrate on their meaning,
not their grammatical function. To understand these particles students
need to realise that :
as their name
indicates, preposition/adverb particles are linking words which
serve to situate two or more people or objects in relation to each
other, e.g.: “The man in the house.”
“The hat on the chair.”,
the basic meaning
of these particles is nearly always a physical, spacial one,
this means that
they usually evoke a very precise image, or series of related physical
images, in the mind of a native speaker,
are frequently used in metaphorical or derived senses,
they are frequently added to verbs of movement (and a few other
are usually Anglo-saxon in origin,
it is frequently
possible to paraphrase an Anglo-saxon verb + postposition/adverb
by a prefix + verb of Latin origin.
For example: say
again = repeat, go
on = continue,
images contained in the Anglo-saxon verb + postposition/adverb are
usually still vivid to a native speaker, these are preferred in
conversation, while the prefix + verb words of Latin origin are
more common in formal, ‘distant’ writing and speaking,
some verbs of
Latin origin, because they have been fully integrated into the language,
can also be followed by a postposition/adverb.
For example, impose
on, turn over, move
are constantly inventing new combinations of motion verb (sometimes
other common verbs) + postposition/adverb, usually in a metaphorical
sense. Other English speakers seldom have any problem in working
out what they mean in a given context, (Example: Dr Kelly accused
the government of sexing up the dossier
on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.)
are sure of evoking the same images as native speakers of both the
verb and the postposition/adverb, they too will understand these
combinations (except for a limited number of instances where, because
the meanings of words change over the centuries, certain images
are no longer immediately accessible to modern speakers of English.
Words of Latin origin are even more opaque for most English speakers.),
in certain verb
+ postposition/adverb combinations, the meaning of the verb and
the postposition/adverb are such that the combined effect is not
to create a really new meaning, but just to reinforce the meaning
of the verb. For example: “Drink up!” “Come
the right images is the key to understanding Phrasal Verbs.
2001- 2007 Glenys Hanson, Centre de linguistique appliquée,
12 août, 2008