Is it true that if any verb is immediately followed by a prepositional phrase, then it has to be an intransitive verb?

As a counter example, I need a sentence which:

(i) has only one verb, and

(ii) the verb should be of only one word, and should not be intransitive and immediately followed by a prepositional phrase

(iii) follows subject-verb-object order strictly

(iv) has as few clauses and conjuncts as possible

(v) doesn't alter normal sentence construction

  • 3
    You can beat with great enthusiasm a dead horse, so I'd say false. – MetaEd Nov 26 '12 at 19:45
  • Why do you want to know? I cannot understand where this would come up, or why it ever matters. – tchrist Nov 26 '12 at 20:09
  • @tchrist: I came across this statement somewhere and couldn't find any suitable counter example for it. I came across it while forming rules for a computational model which parses data to form sub-categorization frames for verbs. – Nehal J Wani Nov 26 '12 at 20:27
  • @NehalJ.Wani Thanks; now I understand your motivation here. – tchrist Nov 26 '12 at 21:08
  • 1
    +1 For a good question. However, you need to structure questions in quite a different way here on ELU. See the FAQ. Include your background research and results with the query. Update question with after-thoughts, if any from time to time. Above all, do not use "Question Paper" format. Help ELU help you. – Kris Nov 27 '12 at 5:44

It's untrue that the verb is necessarily intransitive. You can walk down the street, but you can also walk the dog. All it means is that the verb is being used in an intransitive fashion.

Idiomatically, we rarely put a prepositional phrase between the verb and the direct object. We can show to the door an uninvited guest, but it's more common to do the other way around.

Of course, many individual prepositions become attached to verbs (sit down, walk around, show up) and often that preposition-like particle (not a phrase, just a single word) is left next to its verb. Do you throw up your lunch or throw your lunch up? Do you beat down the grass or beat it down? Piss off your spouse or piss it off?

(Funny how you always put the particle after the object, if the object is a pronoun. You almost never "throw up it" or "piss off her". Funny language, English.)


In general, it's not advisable to rely too heavily on rules like this that refer to the linear word order of items in the sentence.

In English (and in languages in general) there are always cases where, e.g. for rhythmic reasons, elements can move outside their "canonical" position. (This process is sometimes referred to as "move alpha" in more technical descriptions.)

So for example, with the verbs "put", "place" etc, the locative complement would tend to come before the direct object complement depending on the relative length and information status (new, already mentioned/assumed, focussed etc) of these two complements-- notice how in these sentence pairs, (a) is matural in case 1, but (b) is more natural in case 2:

1(a) He put the books on the table.

1(b) ??He put on the table the books.

2(a) He put on the table three books that I never even knew had been published.

2(b) ?He put three books that I never even knew had been published on the table.

  • "a) is matural in case 1, but (b) is more natural in case 2" - I think you've written that incorrectly. – Mark Beadles Nov 26 '12 at 21:18
  • @NeilCoffey Isn't 1(b) in your example a case of bad sentence construction? – Nehal J Wani Nov 26 '12 at 21:30
  • Nehal -- it's unusual and without context sounds "very odd" (hence the "??"), but is just about possible given a very narrow range of contexts. Imagine, say, some kind of game where players had to race to take objects off a table as they were named, with the quizmaster calling out "He put on the table..." each time, with this word order then deliberately chosen so that the quizmaster can create suspense by leaving the object till the end of the sentence. – Neil Coffey Nov 26 '12 at 21:44
  • Jesus gave to them the word of God sounds if anything more "normal" than "Jesus gave the word of God to them". – FumbleFingers Nov 26 '12 at 22:04

This 'test' is well-motivated, but there are too many exceptions; for example:

  1. Passives:
    "The book was stolen by the child." steal is transitive, and the prepositional by-phrase indicates the agent.

  2. Phrasal verbs:
    "John showed off the jewels." The verb here is really show off, a transitive phrasal verb meaning 'display'.

  3. Verbs with variable transitivity:
    "John ran to the store." vs. "John ran the store". In the first, ran is intransitive, in the second transitive.

  • I disagree that look at is a transitive phrasal verb. You never use it without an object, which suggests that the object is the object of the preposition, not the direct object of the verb. Contrast look around: you can look around the store, but you can also just look around. – Malvolio Nov 26 '12 at 19:37
  • @Malvolio You can't use it without an object because it's transitive. I can break a dish, but I can't just break. However, that is a small matter and doesn't change the main point about phrasal verbs, so I'll choose a better example. Thanks. – Mark Beadles Nov 26 '12 at 19:39
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    Ooh, but your new example is a great one. I still like feeling up your girlfriend... – Malvolio Nov 26 '12 at 19:47
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    @Malvolio Well, the real answer of course is that English doesn't truly have prepositions. It has a mostly-closed class of function words P that can serve as PP heads, adverbs, or the second component of phrasal verbs. :) – Mark Beadles Nov 26 '12 at 19:47
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    I don't know if that's fair. Comparatively few words in English are restricted to a single part of speech. "Few" can be a noun, "word" can be a verb, "very" can be an adjective. Nonetheless, we still say English has adjectives, nouns, and adverbs. At can be used as a component of a phrasal verb; doesn't mean it's not a pronoun. – Malvolio Nov 26 '12 at 19:51

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