I was reading a research paper on translating multi-word items, which include phrasal verbs, and I came across a passage about phrasal verbs, by Dixon, that reads:

Moreover, leftward movement will take place, as Dixon argues, when a direct object noun phrase contains new information; therefore, the noun phrase will be positioned after the verb and the preposition. However, once the noun phrase is repeated, then the leftward movement cannot apply. For example, we'll make up a parcel for them…On the morning of Christmas Eve together we'll make the parcel up. (1982: 24).

I didn't really get if the last sentence is right or not! Also, what does Dixon mean by repeating the noun phrase?

Here's the whole phrasal verb movement available: *Regarding the syntax of phrasal verbs, Dixon (1982: 22) was able to show that there are two movements that will occur in the phrasal verb. One is the leftward movement of prepositions, and the other is the rightward movement of prepositions. An example of the leftward movement of prepositions is Put the visitors up for a night/Put up the visitors for a night. Dixon (1982: 22) argues that leftward movement cannot take place over a personal pronoun. For example, I put you up, not Fred, for the presidency/I put up you, not Fred, for the presidency.

Thank you.

  • I think there may be a typesetting error here. I found this source which appears to list exactly the same usage twice, but for some reason only the first instance is marked "syntactically questionable to many native speakers" (by preceding it with a question mark). It's in a context explaining that because "the parcel" has already been mentioned, it's "okay" to move it leftward in the second reference (giving make the parcel up for them, rather than the normal make up the parcel). Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 16:46
  • Personally, I think Dixon (1982: 22) is on shaky ground. I'm just as happy with I gave away a dowry, not a daughter as I am with I gave a dowry away, not a daughter. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 16:59
  • Where he says "we'll make the parcel up", the noun phrase is repeated. I.e. he says this only in a context in which he's just mentioned a parcel, so he's not introducing new information by mentioning a parcel here. Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 17:47

1 Answer 1


Although I don't agree about the facts, I think that what is being said concerns stress/intonation. There is a conflict between two principles of English stress. (1) The last element of a phrase has the highest stress. (2) The second of two coreferential noun phrases has low stress. Suppose we write a high stressed constituent in bold and the second of two coreferential noun phrases in italics. Then these two principles give us:

On the morning of Christmas Eve together we'll make the parcel up.
On the morning of Christmas Eve together we'll make up a parcel.

When "the parcel* is definite it has low stress by principle (2) and does not come at the end, by principle (1). But when it is indefinite, so it cannot be the second of two coreferential noun phrases, it has high stress by principle (2) and comes at the end, by principle (1).

But for the following, we have a clash, because principle (1) cannot be satisfied:

On the morning of Christmas Eve together we'll make up the parcel.

So, the above should not be acceptable. This is my understanding of what is being said in the passage you ask about. Unfortunately, the last example above is not unacceptable, in my opinion. It's perfectly okay. Evidently, principle (2) takes precedence.

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