I'm new here (in the sense of asking a question, but I often use the site for reference.)

I have a question regarding the phrasal verb "get on", or more specifically when used with "with", eg. "get on with".

My confusion is partly regarding whether "get on" is transitive or intransitive. When I search the web I always find "get on" listed as intransitive, even when using an example like:

She gets on with her brother

The problem is I found another site that had a similar example that classed her brother as a direct object. But that would make it transitive, right? I think part of my problem is I'm not always sure what makes a verb transitive!

I thought about another verb, walk, that can be both transitive and intransitive and sentences like:

I walked a lot - *intransitive?*
I walked with her - *transitive?*
I walked many miles - *transitive?*
I walked the dog - *transitive?*

And then I thought back to get on with sentences like:

I get on with her - *transitive?*
I get on at school - *transitive?*
We get on - *intransitive?*
I'm getting on well - *intransitive?*

I'm not sure if "with her" and "at school" would be classed as direct objects. Any clarification would be much appreciated! I have to do a TEFL later this year and this is one area I want to understand better.


  • Maybe they're saying that her is the direct object of the phrasal verb get on with. If that's what they mean, school is not a direct object in I get on at school because get on at is not a phrasal verb; it's the intransitive phrasal verb get on combined with the prepositional phrase at school. – Peter Shor Feb 24 '20 at 10:53
  • 1
    This really boils doen to how one defines 'transitive'. Probably the best way of addressing this is to define the multi-word verb 'get on with' (= be friendly with) as a lexeme containing the transitivising particle 'with', so giving independent clauses N1 gets on with N2, where N1 and N2 are sentient (John gets on well with animals) and an adverb may obviously be placed before the 'with'. 'Get on' without the transitivising particle & we are not considering false-positives like 'get on the bus', "Get on with you") also exists, usually with padding (John is getting on well at school) and ... – Edwin Ashworth Feb 24 '20 at 11:03
  • there is another usage of N1 is getting on well with N2, N2 now a job etc to be done (John is getting on well with his homework). // 'We get on' is really a deleted form of 'We get on [well] with each other'. //// Many would consider 'I walked with her' intransitive; 'I walked many miles' is certainly an intransitive usage, containing a measure phrase. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 24 '20 at 11:12
  • "I walked a lot - intransitive?" Yes, "a lot" is a complement and adverbial. "I walked with her - transitive?" No, "with her" is a prepositional modifier and, here, acts adverbially." There is no object - and object should be a substantive. "I walked many miles - transitive?" No. The miles did not experience the action of the verb. "many miles" = for many miles, which is a prepositional modifier and a complement. "I walked the dog - transitive?" Yes - "The dog was walked" - The dog experienced the action of being walked. – Greybeard Feb 24 '20 at 11:22
  • To add: Get on is a phrasal verb. “Get” is a generic verb that, here has the meaning of “tolerate” On is considered to be an adverb with the nuance of “in a continuing manner”. I cannot think of an example, in this meaning, that is transitive, i.e. has an object. – Greybeard Feb 24 '20 at 11:27

Get on, as you've used it, is an intransitive phrasal verb. Here is the OED's take on it:

get, v. PHRASAL VERBS to get on 8. intransitive. Of a person: to enjoy or maintain friendly relations or intimacy with (another); (of more than one person) to agree, harmonize, fraternize, or enjoy friendly relations (together).
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

Here are some examples:

Bob and I just don't get on.
We get on well.
They get on with everyone.

Well functions as an adverb, as does the prepositional phrase with everyone.

If you want, you can call get on with a phrasal-prepositional verb, as seen at Cambridge Dictionary's Phrasal verbs and multi-word verbs. A prepositional verb is one that usually collocates with a particular preposition (e.g. get on with with or laugh with at). The prepositional verb is considered intransitive as it cannot take an object itself:

The art critic looked at the painting. (correct)
*The art critic looked the painting. (incorrect)
His parents have been arguing about money. (correct)
*His parents have been arguing money. (incorrect)
His parents have been arguing. (correct)
Source: Prepositional Verbs and Verb Phrase Complements (see also references at end)

Often, prepositional verbs—even though they are intransitive—can use their prepositional phrase's object as a subject in a passive voice construction. Like this:

Active: They laughed at the clown. Passive: The clown was laughed at [by them].

Others are idioms that can't be separated. Like this:

Active: She gets on with her brother. Passive: *Her brother is gotten on with [by her]. (*don't do that)

  • Thank you - your explanation really helps. I was also reading about phrasal-prepositional verbs on the link you included. If I understand correctly there can be an object of the preposition (I get on with MY BROTHER) but there cannot be an object of the prepositional verb (I get Something/someone- incorrect on with ...) in contrast to a prepositional verb like "let in on", with which you could say "I let HIM in on THE SECRET". Please let me know if you think my understanding is still wrong - otherwise thanks again! – Alex Bennett Feb 25 '20 at 10:39
  • Sorry for butting in on the question that wasn't put to me, hope you won't mind it. The "let in on" is best not understood as a "prepositional verb" . It is no more a (prepositional) verb than "let out of" in the idiom "I let the cat out of the bag". – user97589 Feb 25 '20 at 13:12
  • While I don't use the terminology given here, at least you've taken the time to add some relevant references, attributed and linked. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 25 '20 at 15:34
  • @RejlanGivens: According to the Cambridge analysis, let in on would be a phrasal-prepositional verb: The particle and the preposition cannot be separated. . . . The object [of the preposition] . . . always comes immediately after the preposition, and not in any other position. . . . Some phrasal-prepositional verbs also take a direct object after the verb as well as an object of the preposition: . . . She fixed [DO]us up with [PO]a violin teacher. Not saying you have to subscribe to that, but it is useful for visualizing the concept. – Tinfoil Hat Feb 25 '20 at 17:47
  • Let in on is a phrasal-prepositional verb: I let him[DO] in on [PO]the secret. – Tinfoil Hat Feb 25 '20 at 17:51

"Get on" cannot be thought of as either transitive or intransitive. The property of "transitivity" applies to verbs and prepositions but not to combinations of words.

Analyzing combinations of verb and preposition as "multi-word/phrasal verbs" is misleading. To make this concept plausible, authors of traditional grammars had to introduce terms such as transitive and intransitive phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs, phrasal-prepositional verbs, which further divided into subtypes etc. No need to say that this made understanding the whole terminology a challenge on its own.

Also, under this analysis the concepts of "orthographic word" and "grammatical word" have to be kept strictly apart, the latter encompassing combinations of two or three orthographic words, which do not even have to be in sequence. This dramatically dilutes the definitions of word classes and made the very term "word" obscure.

This can be illustrated in these examples:

  1. She brought up the child (in conversation) / She brought the child up (in conversation).

  2. She brought up the child (in New York) / She brought the child up (in New York).

  3. She brought up the child (in her arms) / She brought the child up (in her arms)(or: She brought the child up the stairs. etc)

In the first two the verb "bring" and the preposition "up" form an idiomatic lexical unit - obviously, we will interpret meaning 1 as "mention/introduce" and 2 as "raise". .

In terms of category, traditional grammars put the "up" in the first two sentences in the category of "adverb (and particle at the same time)". In the third one "up" is a preposition when followed by a noun phrase: She brought the child up the stairs. and adverb when it is not : She brought the child up.

The problem that this analysis causes can be clearly seen in dictionaries, which take pretty different approaches in the organization of entries.

To take as an example labeling verb-preposition combinations which cannot be interpreted on their own in isolation from nouns or other words that form the idiom . Some dictionaries, for example, have an entry for the phrase "make up to someone" meaning "be sycophantic" (Oxford LD labels it as a "phrasal verb") but not for the similar "make it up to someone" meaning "to compensate". Others (Collins, Macmillan, Longman ..) give both these meanings under the same entry (of course, the latter meaning with the intervening "it" - "make it up to someone") Merriam Webster labels both, "make up to someone" and "make it up to someone" as idioms. They label "bring up" as a verb, "come up to" as a "phrasal verb" , "put up with" is found under the entry for "put up", which is labeled "verb", etc.

On the other hand, what most dictionaries have in common is the general idea of "phrasal verb" as an idiomatic combination of a verb and preposition, but not the literal one. This excludes from the category the "bring up" in my third sentence .

There may be some variations in both labeling and the content of the definition. For example, "bring up" is "verb" in MW, and "phrasal verb" in other dictionaries I checked. Vocabulary.com starts the entry for "bring up" with the literal meaning "raise from lower to higher position" and continues with more idiomatic meanings: mention, raise, vomit. Oxford LD gives these three idiomatic meanings first adding to them the literal meaning of "making something appear on the computer screen" etc.

To cut the long story short, it is a blind alley to think of verb-preposition combinations such as "get on", "bring up", "come up with" etc as single words. "Transitivity" is a property shared by verbs and prepositions, but not their combinations. So we can speak of "get", "bring", "come", etc as transitive/intransitive, and we can think about prepositions up, down, on, in etc. in the same way. "Up" in "She brought the child up" is intransitive - it doesn't have an object of its own. "Up" in "She brought the child up the stairs" is transitive, taking "the stairs" as its object.

The transitivity of prepositions has grammatical consequences - we can move the intransitive "up" next to the verb: She brought up the child. but not the transitive one * She brought up the stairs the child. The fact that "bring up" is idiomatic in the other two examples have a strong grammatical effect of course. Most grammatical operations on idioms are simply precluded. Unlike literal interpretations, these are fixed, "take it or leave it" word combinations.

  • This fails to distinguish the analysis of say 'She ran up the bill' from 'she ran up the hill/lane/path...'. In the first sentence, obviously 'run up' is far more cohesive (and MWVs-or-what-are-they can often be replaced by close synonyms that are single [orthographic] words). In the second, the PP is deletable while retaining grammaticality and the same general sense. There are many grammarians who hold to a MWV analysis (whatever the terminology), even though grey areas exist: I'll name Kruisinga, Quirk et al, Huckel, Cowie, Denison, Palmer, Fraser, Claridge. Huddleston et al admittedly ... – Edwin Ashworth Feb 25 '20 at 13:40
  • don't. But an answer not referencing and contrasting theories of individual researchers (using linked and attributed quotes) rather than the flailings of dictionaries on this syntactical question is inadequate. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 25 '20 at 13:40
  • Edwin we may agree to disagree on this grammatical point, but I don't see how it is inadequate to provide readers with a fresh point of view on any individual question here. You seem to be insisting that people copy paste quotes from reference grammar works here, and only then will you find the answers satisfactory. I've learned about this from CGEL (and other sources) and I can now provide simple answers from my angle, which may be an added value for people who have no previous knowledge of the subject. I researched dictionaries to illustrate where the idea of multi-word words leads to. – user97589 Feb 25 '20 at 14:41
  • Even experienced lexicographers struggle with categorizing these combinations simply because there are no clear criteria for categorization. I don't see how it can be good for a learner to think of "make up to" as an idiom and "come up to" as a "phrasal verb". Or how is it good to have "make up to" as an entry for "phrasal verb" but not "make it up to" when the other meaning is far more frequent. It is clear that the authors couldn't add a phrasal verb entry for something that is a phrase including a noun as well. What kind of a word would it be? – user97589 Feb 25 '20 at 14:52
  • Anyway, I'll leave it at that, and let everyone make what they want of my answer. Hope someone use it as a starting point for further researching the subject. – user97589 Feb 25 '20 at 14:52

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