Which is correct?
- They marveled the effigy.
- They marveled at the effigy.
Please provide an explanation.
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They marveled at the effigy is correct. "Marvel" is an intransitive verb—it doesn't take a direct object. So anything in the sentence that receives the activity of marveling will be in a prepositional phrase.
A less technical way to think of it: The act of marveling doesn't affect the effigy, and the preposition at conveys that. The preposition creates some distance between the effigy and the action. If marvel were like shove or burn, and the effigy were changed by the action of marvelling, then They marvel the effigy would make sense.