In sentences with the combination “verb + preposition + noun phrase” is there a procedure to identify whether it is a phrasal verb + object or a verb + prepositional phrase? or does it solely depend on the meaning?

For example consider these two examples from which I think the first one has a phrasal verb and the second one a prepositional phrase:

  1. She always talks about her childhood friends

  2. She fell from her bicycle

I think in the first example “talk about” is the verb and “her childhood friends” the object. As for the second example, I think “fell” should be the verb and “from her bicycle” a prepositional phrase.

The two examples seem a lot similar to me and the fact that one has an object and one doesn’t is somehow unexplainable to me.

1 Answer 1


If the particle cannot be an adverb, it must be a preposition. An example: "from" cannot be an adverb. So when a verb is used with "from", the "from" must be a preposition. That settles your "fell from" example: "from her bicycle" is a preposition-phrase.

Failing that, one way to tell the difference is to try using a pronoun as a direct object. If the particle is an adverb, the direct-object pronoun must go between the verb and the adverb-particle.

Adapting your Example 1:

Example 1a: She's always talking about them

Example 1b: *She's always talking them about

1b fails, so "about" in this sentence can't be an adverb; it must be a preposition. So "about them" is a preposition-phrase. By contrast, with regard to a misbehaving child and her toys,

Example 3a: *She's always throwing about them

Example 3b: She's always throwing them about

3a fails, so "about" in this sentence can't be a preposition; it must be an adverb. So the verb is "throw [something] about".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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