Galileo was forced to recant his assertion that the earth orbited the sun (Oxford Dictionary)

Can one recant on an absence of belief? (The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life)

The first “recant” is a transitive verb. And Wikipedia says the second “recant on” is a transitive particle verb. Can any transitive verb be accompanied by a preposition to add the preposition’s meaning?

  • In general, any kind of question of the form "I see an example of an alternative; is this alternative allowed under any similar circumstance" will always have some exception, some counterexample. Except when the rule really is universal. Which there aren't. Except... you get the idea.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 17:06
  • Consider "I evaluated the student." You can't "evaluate at/on/of/over/about the student". I don't think there's any preposition you can use here. Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 17:12

2 Answers 2


"A transitive particle verb" is also called a "transitive phrasal verb" or a "transitive two-word verb". It's the kind talked about in the Q about "looked at". Wikipedia says: "A transitive particle verb has a nominal object in addition to the particle. If the object is an ordinary noun phrase, it can usually appear on either side of the particle, although very long noun phrases tend to come after the particle". So, when it's possible to say something like Switch the light off, "the light" appears to function as the direct object of "switch". And when you say "say something like Switch off the light," "the light" appears to function as the direct object of "switch off".

I use appears to function because I don't want to make an authoritative claim here. This requires the expertise of a professional linguist because it's a small technical point, not something that seems to have any effect on how we civilians (including "lapsed linguists" [like me], as one user here calls himself) use the language. All we need to know is whether we can separate the verb form switch and the particle/preposition (whichever your theoretical position says the term should be) by putting the light in between them.

I'd say the answer to your question is "No". But there are other verbs of this type, e.g., hand in as in {Hand in your homework / Hand your homework in} before the test.


There are several types of English constructions that get called "phrasal verbs". I can only speak authoritatively about my own usage of the term, and what I understand about others' usages.

I use the term phrasal verb specifically to cover what I originally learned to call "two-word verbs" (aka "Verb Plus Particle Construction") when I was teaching ESL in the 1960s. I learned then how troublesome they were to English learners; when we got to the chapter in our textbook about them, they would always insist I explain the meaning of each one, since they're so idiosyncratic.

(The link in the first sentence above goes to a freshman grammar homework problem about phrasal verbs in the sense I intend; the name of (one of) the rule(s) involved in the data is Particle Shift. 1p max)

I also learned how plentiful and variable phrasal verbs are in English, since my predecessor and mentor in that ESL job was George A. Meyer, who'd compiled a dictionary of them.

There are many more two-word verbs than one-word verbs in English, because just about every one-word verb appears in more than one two-word verb. And they're all idiomatic, though there are so many of them that many useful (but not completely reliable) patterns can be discerned.

There are also transitivizing prepositions, like the ones associated with the intransitive volitional sense verbs look and listen. It's usually desirable to indicate the focus of looking or listening, so the verbs' intransitivity is inconvenient.

English provides its usual sloppy syntactic solution --

  • use a prepositional phrase to mark the object NP
  • always use the same preposition
  • never stress the preposition -- stress the object NP instead
  • attach the preposition as tightly as possible to the verb in speech
  • shift the boundaries to make [verb + preposition] a constituent
  • treat the former prepositional object as the direct object of [verb + preposition]

The result is that look at and listen to are effectively transitive verbs. They are so transitive that they can be passivized.

  • This has been looked at before, but nothing ever came of it.
  • Will he really be listened to when he puts the proposal before them?

There is even an eye dialect spelling "lookit", as in Lookit that patina!. These constructions are also called "phrasal verbs" by some linguists in some contexts, and -- provided examples are given to nail down the phenomenon; data and context are crucial, always -- other linguists will understand what they mean. They differ from the first kind in that they don't undergo Particle Shift, and there is no semantic content to the preposition, even though it is cliticized to the verb like the first type.

There are others, too. But this is already too long.

  • 1
    Thank you, John Lawler! It really helps to see a clear presentation of how complex some linguistic phenomena are and how pointless it is to believe or even hope that there's always a simple answer to what seems a simple question. I also appreciate this sentence: "I can only speak authoritatively about my own usage of the term, and what I understand about others' usages." Maybe it will give pause to those who believe in the sacrosanctity of terminology and cause them to reconsider their linguistic creed.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 8:19

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