Is "be built of" a phrasal verb? If so, in the following sentence the verb would be a verb conjugated in simple past, or on the contrary, would be in passive voice?

  • It was built of horizontal planks, and so badly put together that, as he bent over his high desk, he was barred from neck to heels with narrow strips of sunlight.

Heart of Darkness of Joseph Conrad.

  • 1
    What makes you think it might be a verbal idiom (your 'phrasal verb')? – BillJ Jun 1 '18 at 9:37
  • Do Macmillan place it within or separate from their 'phrasal verbs [based on build]' category? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 1 '18 at 10:07
  • I'd say there are reasonable arguments for both analyses here, but agree with the opinions of those not classifying 'be built of' as a MWV (I've found none to the contrary; contrast 'consist of', OALD) that on balance the 'phrasal verb' classification is best rejected. On the other hand, 'be built of' and inflected forms are then very strong collocations. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 1 '18 at 11:07
  • In this sentence, I'd say built is a past participle acting as an adjective, and neither simple past nor passive voice. – Peter Shor Jun 1 '18 at 11:22
  • No, it’s not a verbal idiom, since the meaning is predictable from the meanings of the components. It’s ambiguous as to whether it is passive: it could be a ‘short’ passive, the kind where the by phrase is omitted, or it could simply be an adjectival passive, where the meaning is stative rather than dynamic, compare also “it was made of horizontal planks …”. In the adjectival reading, it's a past tense complex-intransitive construction. – BillJ Jun 1 '18 at 14:57

No, “built of” (or “be build of”) is not a phrasal verb according to most accepted definitions. The term “phrasal verb” usually indicates a small group of words, functioning as unit in a sentence, consisting of a verb modified by an adverb or preposition. But importantly it must have a meaning that cannot be derived from the separate meanings of its component words, and it is this that does not apply in your example. If you know what “built” means and “of” means then you immediately know what “built of” means. An example of a true phrasal verb is “fed up” - I might know what “fed” means and what “up” means, but that doesn’t really help. I have to learn the special meaning of the combination “fed up”.


A phrasal verb consists of a verb and a preposition or adverb that modifies or changes the meaning; 'give up' is a phrasal verb that means 'stop doing' something, which is very different from 'give'. The word or words that modify a verb in this manner can also go under the name particle. Phrasal verbs can be divided into groups:

Intransitive verbs These don't take an object They had an argument, but they've made up now.

Inseparable verbs The object must come after the particle. They are looking after their grandchildren.

Separable verbs With some separable verbs, the object must come between the verb and the particle: The quality of their work sets them apart from their rivals.

In our phrasal verb dictionary, we classify these as Separable [obligatory]

With some separable verbs, the object can before or after the particle, though when a pronoun is used it comes before the particle: Turn the TV off. Turn off the TV. Turn it off.

  • 1
    This does not answer the OP's question. – Kreiri Jun 1 '18 at 9:44
  • Hello, Monica. You're giving the definition of 'phrasal verb' you work with. There are others, and some grammarians reject the term as having confusing conflicting definitions. The whole issue has been covered here before: terminology, transitive and intransitive MWVs, analysis of 'up' say as preposition/adverb or particle, required degree of change in meaning from simplex verb, gradience between V + PP and MWV, obligatory/optional separability, and grey areas. The bottom line is the degree of cohesiveness between verb-word and particle-word/s, which is not always easy to determine. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 1 '18 at 10:49
  • 'In our phrasal verb dictionary' shows that (unless you're a compiler) you've given a quote here. To fit in with copyright and ELU regulations, quotes must be attributed and a link given. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 1 '18 at 10:49

The verbs consisting of two or more words are called Phrasal Verbs.

  1. a verb followed by an adverb- The man SAT DOWN.
  2. a verb followsd by a preposition- The girl LOOKED AFTER her bed-ridden mother. 3 a verb followed by an adverb and a preposition- He may COME UP AGAINST unexpected difficulties.
  • This does not answer the OP's question either. – Kreiri Jun 1 '18 at 15:00

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