I start with a simple sentence:

“I climb the ladder.”

This contains a nice transitive verb with a clear direct object. If I slightly modify the sentence:

“I climb up the ladder.”

I believe that I have not changed the essential nature of the sentence ( climb is still transitive); I have only added an adverb indicating the direct of the climb. A friend believes that the new sentence is fundamentally different. She believes that climb is now intransitive and that up the ladder is a prepositional phrase!

Which of us is correct?

  • Well, up the ladder is indeed a prepositional phrase. Think about going the other way with a different verb. You might fall off the ladder but you would never fall the ladder. Climb as a transitive verb implies movement in an upward direction. But you can climb down a ladder as well. Meaning the original meaning of the verb has been subverted (or inverted) in this case. – Robusto Nov 8 '14 at 16:13
  • I suspect many German linguists might agree with your friend. I find transitive an odd concept with verbs of locomotion. See any difference here? I drive this street every day. I drive these cattle to market. – TRomano Nov 8 '14 at 16:18
  • Hi Gary's Student, I'm a bit confused. What is the connection between the question and the title 'adverb vs preposition'? I asked because I'm always interested in preposition/adverb distinction ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 8 '14 at 17:07
  • @Araucaria Perhaps I was not clear....*up* does modify climb in the second sentence, but is ladder still a D.O.? – Gary's Student Nov 8 '14 at 19:28

"up the ladder" is a preposition group/phrase and as sentence part an adverbial sentence part indicating the kind of movement as "up/down the street, through the woods, across the fields". In the above sentence "to climb" is not transitive as it has no direct object. Verbs of movement can be followed by a description of the "way" someone takes. This is no where-indication nor a where-to indication but a new sort of indication. You don't ask where or where to, but which way.

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Neither... In this case ("What's up?"), 'up' is an adjective. At least according to: http://learnersdictionary.com/definition/up#ld_entry_v2_jumplink_up_2

"Up" is describing the noun that would be the other person's answer.

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