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“I try to give ‘em a reason, you see. It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason.”
(Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird)

When we say ‘prepositional verb’ and ‘adverbial complement,’ are they two points of view for one occasion: the former sees ‘latch onto a reason’ as [prepositional verb: latch onto]+[a reason], and the other [latch]+[adverbial complement: onto a reason].’ Or does the example show only the prepositional verb?

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The situation may or may not be complicated by confecting the preposition onto which should be two words. Into is a preposition; onto is not. –  Andrew Leach Apr 25 '13 at 9:30
    
..........Pardon? thefreedictionary.com/onto –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 25 '13 at 11:20
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Like into or without, onto is a compound preposition. –  John Lawler Apr 25 '13 at 16:01
    
The usage note at Collins is relevant: < Usage: Onto is now generally accepted as a word in its own right. On to is still used, however, where on is considered to be part of the verb: he moved on to a different town as contrasted with he jumped onto the stage.> Latch on to and latch onto are both acceptable, perhaps showing an intermediate degree of cohesiveness between latch and on. –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 26 '13 at 16:40
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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

A prepositional phrase is a grammatical structure consisting of a preposition followed by a noun phrase. An adverbial complement is a grammatical function. Adverbial complements may be realized through prepositional phrases or other adverbials.

Consider:

I put the book down.

I put the book on the table.

I put the book down on the table.

There are verbs requiring complements without which the sentence they are part of would be malformed. In your example, the verb latch is such a verb. The addition of the adverbial particle onto in conjuction with the verb latch gives it an entirely different meaning than if latch were used in a sentence such as Make sure to latch the gate.

Therefore, I would argue that the verbal structure in your example is latch onto and that this structure is followed by the noun phrase a reason. In terms of function, I would say that latch onto is a verb and a reason is a direct object.

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Yes, I agree that latch on to is an example of the good old multi-word verb. I can't think of a one-word synonym, but see , apprehend, grasp or have (here) are reasonably close. But I'd stick with latch on to. Latch onto is a permitted variant ( idioms.thefreedictionary.com/latch+onto and thefreedictionary.com/latch ). Onto is prepositional not adverbial, whether used as a preposition or particle. –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 25 '13 at 10:55
    
There's also grab/get/take (a)hold of. –  John Lawler Apr 25 '13 at 16:12
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