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I'm struggling with the way this headline should be structured:

  1. We're welcoming families back! OR 2. We're welcoming back families!

I'm not sure what part of speech 'back' is in these examples. And would like to know why it would be used one way over the other. Thank you!

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  • Does this answer your question? What part of speech is "back" in "put the book back on the table"? Your second question is an obvious duplicate (and @John Lawler might dispute that 'back' is an adverb even here). Tony Stewart addresses the choice in position of 'back' in a sentence like this. But Google 3-grams could well show that both variants are used, with the post-object positioning the more idiomatic. Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 10:55

1 Answer 1

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I'm not sure what part of speech 'back' is in these examples.

In this context, the word back is an enclitic. It changes the verb to welcome into the verb to welcome back. Many prepositions are used this way in English, to add some directional modification to a verb. (Other examples: to bring in, to post up, to grind down, and so forth.)

I see little difference between your options 1 and 2. There is no significant difference between the usages.


I will venture to share my take on the two options:

Option 1 sounds like "We" have been welcoming back various entities, and now "We" are welcoming families back. (We previously welcomed students back, and welcomed teachers back, and welcomed administrators back.) To my subjective ear, it sounds like "We" are the ones who are choosing whom to welcome back, as "We" please. "We" are the agents in this usage.

Option 2 sounds like "We" are welcoming whomever comes back, as they are pleased to choose to return. To my subjective ear, this usage sounds like the ones who are returning are choosing when to come back, and "We" are welcoming all, as they come. "They" are the agents in this usage.

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  • Does 'enclitic' extend to cover separable particles in multi-word verbs, or adverb/prepositions/whatevers that attach to simplex verbs at a distance? I can't find so broad a definition in English linguistics. // The debate over whether 'put back' [with object] is a multi-word verb (ie a single lexeme) or verb + whatsit (two lexemes) has already taken place at what I believe to be a duplicate. Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 11:06
  • Does 'enclitic' extend to cover separable particles [etc.]? Yes, it does. I thought about using the concept "particle" in my answer, but I wanted for it to be simple. There are enclitic particles and non-enclitic particles, and the topic can become complex.
    – J. Berry
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 11:08
  • In that case, you need to provide a stipulative definition countering that given by, for example,Wiktionary (A clitic that joins with the preceding word phonetically, graphically, or both) and Lexico (enclitic ... [noun] [Linguistics] A word pronounced with so little emphasis that it is shortened and forms part of the preceding word, e.g., n't in can't.) The {verb + PP} vs {multi-word verb with transitivising particle and object} issue needs addressing in particular questions if they are not merely... Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 11:40
  • going to be repeats of earlier questions (is welcome back (significantly) less cohesive/unitary than put back, over which there were different views on classification at the previous thread mentioned above?) Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 11:42

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