I'm currently analyzing verbs with Stanford CoreNLP and WordNet. I'm interested in particular in verb meanings. I came across sentences like "The scene takes place on the grass." and I found the verb take place in WordNet. However, these sentences don't seem to be discussed anywhere. It is known that phrasal verbs are formed with particles, prepositions or adverbs. Now, which one is it here?

By the way, Stanford CoreNLP suggests it's a direct object (I guess that's wrong?): a screenshot of Stanford CoreNLP tools for the example sentence

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    Etymologically, it appears to be a noun—so Stanford CoreNLP is etymologically correct. The phrasal verb "takes place" seems to be derived from the construction "to take place" meaning "to take their places" or "to take its place". (The OED says this meaning is obsolete.) I wouldn't call it a noun in the modern construction, though. Sep 8, 2013 at 13:21
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    Unlike @PeterShor, I have no qualms about calling it a noun. Calling it an object might be going too far, though, as it's quite difficult to separate it from the verb. For example, with 'take time' you can extract 'time' as in, “How much time did it take?”, but you can't really say, “What place did it take?”. Sep 8, 2013 at 13:26

2 Answers 2


Take place is, in the words of the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’, a ‘multi-word verb construction’ consisting of a verb (take) and a noun phrase (place). Such verbs, formed mainly with take, make, have and do, ‘can combine with noun phrases to form idiomatic verbal expressions. In many cases, the combination also includes a following preposition.’ Other multi-word verb constructions that use a verb and a noun phrase are make fun (of), have a look (at) and take care (of).

These are not phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb consists of a verb followed by an adverbial particle such as about, along, out, up, down, in, off, out or up.

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    This is perhaps more semantically than structurally based, but I do feel like 'take place' is even more close-knit than the others. The noun in the others are really just objects to me: they can be modified and (unusually, but still acceptably) moved. “They made lots of fun of it” is fine, as is, ”Yes, but the look I had at it was only a cursory one; I didn't see any details” (perhaps awkward, but workable in the right context). *“The place it took was at Wembley” is much, much worse—bordering on incomprehensibility. Sep 8, 2013 at 14:58

I'd use the term multi-word verb for 'take place' = 'occur' (if nouns such as 'particle board' can be multi-word, why not verbs?) without feeling the need for Longman's 'construction'.

The greater problem - when should these 'verb + direct object'-like strings be analysed as 'verb + DO' and when not - is large and complex. Passivisation tests (see Janus Bahs Jacquet above) and testing with substitution of it for the apparent DO in a coordinated sentence seem to give inconsistent diagnoses:

take the pledge ...John has taken the pledge ... *The pledge has been taken by John ...(?)John took the pledge and Jim took it too

turn the corner ... We have turned the corner ... The corner has been turned ... *We have turned the corner and France has turned it too

turn turtle ... the boat turned turtle ... *turtle was turned ... *the small boat turned turtle and the larger one almost turned it too

There are many of these verbo-nominal constructions which don't both passivise and accept 'echoed it' substitution. Break camp / cover / jail / ranks / wind; catch fire; change colour; cry wolf; do a bunk; fall prey to ... - I've a list containing hundreds.

  • Thanks! I didn't realize until now that a determiner can be part of the construction, too.
    – Jonny
    Sep 9, 2013 at 7:04

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