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Or is "off" simply a preposition in this case?

If it's a phrasal verb, would it still be considered so in the phrase:

Keep your hands off her.

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  • I would say phrasal verb in both cases, because "keep" on its own has a different meaning.
    – ralph.m
    Nov 25, 2015 at 6:13
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    Hmm. I'd say neither. Keep means continue with the action mentioned. Off means not touching. So the parts make sense analyzed separately. "Keep on going" and "keep up with the Joneses" seem phrasal to me.
    – deadrat
    Nov 25, 2015 at 7:21
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    Because analogues (keep on the pavement, keep behind the barrier, keep under the porte-cochère, keep in the shelter ...) are quite freely available, and for other reasons given here, I'd say that the verb-prepositiony thing cohesion isn't strong enough to consider 'keep off' a MWV here ('phrasal verb' is ill-defined). 'Keep off red meat / the bottle' is a different matter; here, a single-word synonym is usually available (avoid). Dec 9, 2015 at 22:49

3 Answers 3

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In each case keep is the verb and off is the preposition.

In "keep off the grass" there is a contraction - the object is "implied". It's actually an imperative: "Keep everything off the grass". verb-object-preposition-noun.

In "Keep your hands off her", it's a pretty straightforwards imperative. verb-object-preposition-noun.

You can tell the 'keep off' is not a phrasal verb, because it doesn't have an idomatic meaning and because the preposition off clearly refers to a noun. This is in stark contrast to "break down" (as in "break down and cry"). In the latter case, the phrase has an idiomatic meaning, and the word "down" does not link to anything else, it is intrinsic to the phrase.

In the case of "keep off the grass", "keep" is a verb, which means "continue or cause to continue in a specified condition". The specified condition is "off the grass". Clearly off is related to the grass, and not part of a phrasal verb.

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A phrasal verb is just a verb with an adverbial particle that has been 'fronted' to precede the object[s]. 'Keep off the grass' means 'keep [yourself] [to be] off {[of]} the grass.' You wouldn't change 'He kept his foot off' to *'He kept off his foot', so I don't think it is a phrasal verb. Compare that to 'He picked the can up' which can be changed to 'He picked up the can'.

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  • No it's not. According to one definition, that's what a 'phrasal verb' is. You're stating an individual approach as being the only proper one. The term 'phrasal verb' has been looked at here before, and in my opinion found to be so ambiguous as to be best avoided. John Lawler gives a detailed analysis of the subject here: Difference between verb+preposition and phrasal verbs.. However, I don't think any of the definitions of 'phrasal verb' would license calling this usage an example. Dec 7, 2015 at 23:59
  • I was trying to diminish the term 'phrasal verb' by pointing out the mere movement of a particle (which includes prepositions). I prefer to use 'phrasal verb' only for those cases where the particle has little meaning, as in 'call up'.
    – AmI
    Dec 8, 2015 at 23:43
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    But using your preferred terminology (especially in an authoritative-sounding way) when others are equally acceptable, without explaining it, is not going to be helpful. Dec 9, 2015 at 16:27
  • Lawler's point about stress was useful: you have to pull a file 'up' before you can 'look' at it. Are you disagreeing that there are elided words or that there is 'fronting'? Are there no phrasal verbs or are all verbs 'phrasable'. We do need dictionaries to track their idiomatic meanings.
    – AmI
    Dec 9, 2015 at 20:53
  • I'm saying (1) that different commentators use the term 'phrasal verb' in different ways, which confuses further analysis, and (2) that all this has been covered on ELU many times. Dec 9, 2015 at 22:45
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Prepositions, Adverbs or both are the particles that go in the making of a phrasal verb. The phrasal verbs in turn can be transitive, intransitive or both.In the syntactic behaviour of the phrasal verb it is often seen that the object is placed before the particle or after it; and our our understanding of the phrasal verb is evidently reflected in our proper placement of the object.

KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF HER/KEEP OFF THE GRASS— In these examples objects are placed as contexts demand. It is a mere accident that in both the sentences ”KEEP" retains to some extent the meaning it conveys without the particle; but that does not rob it of its phrasal nature.

KEEP OFF: (Not talk about) She kept off the subject of her divorce.

KEEP OFF: (Not walk on) Keep off the grass.

KEEP OFF: (Keep clear of) Keep your hands off her. If we stop short of "her", still it makes sense. Two objects are present here.one of Verb another of preposition.

Hence, 'Keep off' is a phrasal verb.

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    I disagree that 'keep off' in 'keep off the grass' is a MWV. From RHK Webster's: keep v.i. 32 to stay as specified (fol. by away, back, off, out, etc.): Keep off the grass. >>And compare 'keep still / quiet'. Dec 9, 2015 at 22:56

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