Why are these sentences correct:

  • "He is on the move", 8 million hits on google
  • "He is on the run", 3 million hits

but not these?:

  • "He is on the walk", 3 hits (1 with this construct)
  • "He is on the talk", 1 hit (0 with this construct)

When is it allowed to use the "on the" + verb grammatical construct?

Notes

  • The last word in these sentences is not actually a verb, it is a noun created from a verb (or possibly vice-versa). The question is stated this way to be concise. A suggestion for improvement that is more correct is welcome.
  • Edit 1: added this note, examples, more thoughts.

Some Thoughts

  • The hits on 'walk' gives this sentence about a dog, which seems meaningful enough to me: "once he is on the walk, he doesn't attempt to bite the lead".
  • The first two examples refer to a abstract sort of 'move' or 'run'. A more concrete form of the construct is also possible and maybe more common. E.g. "he is on the call" could colloquially refer to a very specific conference call. However, one of the only two google hits (NSFW, so no link) is about the abstract 'call': "... while he is on the call with his boss". So the concrete form is not common either.
  • Vice-versa, the construct is clearly incorrect for verbs that cannot be used as a noun, e.g. "he is on the buy", "he is on the write".

More Examples

Common examples gathered from the comments:

  • non-slang: go, mend, march, rise, decline, increase, decrease, boil, prowl
  • slang: make, take, dole, prowl, nod?, hop?
  • fighting/sports: attack, rebound

Not quite examples:

  • fly: you cannot 'be on the fly' right?
  • nod?, hop?, train: these nouns aren't based on the verbs right?

More Questions

  • Why are there so few of these verb-like nouns that can be used in such a sentence?
  • Why are relatively many of them slang?

More Thoughts

  • Most of the sentences have a similar meaning when the -ing form of the verb is used. "He is on the take" ~ "He is taking [bribes]". But usually only figuratively, and it is the opposite for "on the dole". Maybe the 'on the' form is used when the 'ing' form already has another meaning: "he is running" vs. "he is on the run" (vs. "he runs").
  • The construct is much more common in Dutch, where it is usually the best way to translate the -ing form, so maybe it is a Germanism?
  • Note that 'once he is on the walk' in your example is more likely to mean 'once he has set off on the walk' than 'once he is on the move'. Cf 'I twisted my ankle while on the walk/hike.' – Edwin Ashworth Mar 10 '17 at 12:10
  • 1
    'On the pull' is a similar (but slang) usage. 'On the lookout', 'on the make' and 'on the mend' are look-alikes. 'On the march' is a close relative. 'On the in-/decrease' are arguably similar. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 10 '17 at 12:15
  • Some more allowed usages: "He is on the mend", "it is on the decline/rise", "She is on the make" – BlackShift Mar 10 '17 at 12:17
  • Also: on the take - taking bribes;on the dole - accepting government assistance; on the lam - evading police; on the gravy train - living very well; etc. I think these are used in these phrases as nouns, not verbs. – Davo Mar 10 '17 at 12:20
  • 1
    The analysis must be that none of these verb-lookalikes are true verbs in these usages, but perhaps some defected to nouniness earlier than others (assuming the conversion wasn't the other way round) and seem less incongruous. I'd analyse 'on the prowl' etc, like AHD, as idioms, treating the whole string as a lexeme. Prowling. Though they bring more colour to the scene. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 10 '17 at 12:29

Move and run can be seen as a type of journey.

Merriam-Webster's has a long list of the various definitions of using both of these words as nouns.

  • I think it would be valid to include these; I don't think many other verbs are used in this way. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 10 '17 at 12:13

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.