In a sentence like the following, what part of speech is open.

The students broke open the hostel gate.

The M-W dictionary states "break open" is a phrasal verb. And the dictionary defines a phrasal verb as:

a phrase (such as take off or look down on) that combines a verb with a preposition or adverb or both and that functions as a verb whose meaning is different from the combined meanings of the individual words.

Then, is "open" an adverb here? If not, what is it?

  • She painted the house red. He broke the box open. I don't see why red and open aren't both adjectives in these sentences. – Peter Shor Nov 24 '18 at 18:31
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    The fact that the dictionary didn't exhaust all the possible alternatives in listing the categories that verbal particles can fill does not mean that anything they forgot to mention is thereby forbidden. Don't look in dictionaries for grammatical information. Dictionaries are for words; grammars are for sentences. – John Lawler Nov 24 '18 at 18:45

Open seems to be an adjective modifying the direct object of break (when transitive) or its subject (when intransitive). I say this for a few reasons:

  • It accepts the same sorts of modifiers as in cases where it is clearly an adjective, e.g. wide as in "broke it wide open".
  • It accepts the same sorts of subjects as in cases where it is clearly an adjective, such as containers, windows, and competitions: you can't "break something open" unless it's something that can "be open".
  • It's rather common in English for a verb to take an adjective complement representing the resulting state of the direct object (if transitive) or subject (if intransitive), as in "It made me mad", "It turned green", "I hammered it flat", "It snapped shut", "I pulled it vertical", "it fell open". Break open fits perfectly into that pattern.
  • Merriam-Webster lists only adjective, verb, and noun senses for open; this obviously isn't a verb or noun use; and while dictionaries are obviously never perfect, there doesn't seem to be any reason to posit a missing adverb or preposition entry in this case.

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