In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Verb-Particle Constructions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Bibliographies
  • VPCs in Romance Languages
  • VPCs in Uralic Languages
  • VPCs in Other Languages
  • Descriptive Linguistics: Oft-Treated Grammar Issues
  • Beyond the Core Fields

Linguistics Verb-Particle Constructions
Bert Cappelle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0311


Verb-particle constructions, such as English look out or sober up, combine an open-class word functioning as a verb and a closed-class word whose primary meaning is locative or directional. Students of English grammar know such combinations by the familiar but often more broadly employed term “phrasal verbs,” while for other Germanic languages such as German and Dutch, linguists also use the term “complex verbs,” “compound verbs,” “prefix verbs” or, reflecting that these objects can be split up by other material, “separable (complex) verbs” (versus “inseparable (complex) verbs”). Thus, German das Licht einschalten ‘to switch on the light’ can occur separated, as in ich schaltete das Licht an ‘I switched the light on’—a structure that also exists in English. Another term found in the literature is “particle verbs,” which, like “complex/compound/prefix/separable verbs,” betrays the linguist’s conviction that particle and verb potentially, or even basically, form a morphologically complex word rather than a phrase. However, the analysis of particle verbs as single words is under much debate. The term “verb-particle constructions” is non-committal, as “constructions” can be recognized to exist at the level of both word formation and phrasal syntax. In the abbreviation “VPC,” used throughout this article, the C can moreover refer conveniently either to a construction seen as a morphological or syntactic template or to a concrete combination of a specific verb and a specific particle. The precise status of particles remains hard to pin down. They are not ordinary affixes—at least, whoever treats them thus must be able to account for their ability to be separated from the verb. Particles share certain properties with traditionally defined prepositions, with which they may be homophonous (such as off in fall off a cliff), but they differ from them in not taking a noun phrase complement with which they form a prepositional phrase. Even so, the particle and the preceding direct object noun phrase (e.g., das Licht an) actually have been analyzed as making up a constituent, a “small clause.” While VPCs are a very common phenomenon in Germanic languages, they are not confined to this one language family. In recent decades, several studies have appeared on VPCs in Romance languages, especially in Italian and its regional varieties. There are also descriptions of VPCs in Uralic languages, such as Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian, and in certain Northern Australian languages, such as Warlpiri. VPCs have been at the center of scholars’ attention in a number of research domains, including theoretical linguistics of various types, historical linguistics, computational linguistics, psycho- and neurolinguistics, and applied linguistics. This bibliography, which covers a wide range of languages, aims to be of interest to linguists of all theoretical persuasions and active in many different fields.

General Overviews and Bibliographies

A number of works have been published that cover verb-particle constructions (VPCs) and related structures in a variety of languages. Dehé, et al. 2002 is a collection of papers that as a whole provides a nice cross-section of researchers’ diverse theoretical and empirical concerns with VPCs in English, Dutch, German, and Swedish. Booij and Van Marle 2003 deals with related structures, namely complex predicates made up of a verb and a “preverb” (a free or bound preverbal morpheme), in other languages as well, such as Estonian, Old French, Udi, Georgian, and Northern Australian languages. For more recent, chapter-length introductions that contain examples of VPCs in a broad array of languages of a single family, see Dehé 2015 and Toivonen 2020 for Germanic, and Iacobini 2015 for Romance. There also exist some freely available online bibliographies on VPCs. These bibliographies have typically been created as part of the work of funded research projects focusing on VPCs, as in the case of Dehé’s collection, Verb Particle Constructions: A Bibliography, sometimes together with other types of multi-word expressions. Masini’s Bibliografia essenziale/Essential bibliography focuses on Italian verb-particle constructions. Researchers should be aware that bibliographies may be selective and biased toward a particular theoretical perspective. Also, they may not be up-to-date. (The present bibliographical article is certainly not intended to be exhaustive, but it does aim to provide a representative sample of the most important and influential works on VPCs in various languages and research domains.)

  • Bibliografia essenziale/Essential bibliography. Edited by Francesca Masini.

    Lists seventy publications on verb-particle constructions in Italian and other Romance languages, as well as some useful references on the linguistic typology of motion events. Updated until 2010.

  • Booij, Geert, and Jaap van Marle, eds. 2003. Yearbook of morphology 2003. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, and London: Kluwer.

    Volume dedicated to complex predicates with preverbs, a phenomenon which has considerable overlap with VPCs. Treats their mixed morphological and syntactic status for some Germanic, Romance, Uralic, and Australian languages. Includes some papers on diachronic change and one paper discussing morpheme detection by learners.

  • Dehé, Nicole. 2015. Particle verbs in Germanic. In Word formation: An international handbook of the languages of Europe. Vol. 1. Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft/Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science (HSK) series. Edited by Peter O. Müller, Ingeborg Ohnheiser, Susan Olsen, and Franz Rainer, 611–626. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    Succinct survey and comparison of VPCs in English, the North Germanic languages, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, and even Yiddish. Lists some of their central morpho-syntactic properties and provides a rapid overview of the different approaches to these constructions in the generative literature.

  • Dehé, Nicole, Ray Jackendoff, Andrew McIntyre, and Silke Urban, eds. 2002. Verb-particle explorations. Berlin: De Gruyter.

    Brings together analyses of syntactic, morphological, and semantic properties as well as processing aspects of VPCs in some Germanic languages, from a variety of theoretical frameworks.

  • Iacobini, Claudio. 2015. Particle verbs in Romance. In Word formation: An international handbook of the languages of Europe. Vol. 1. Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft/Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science (HSK) series. Edited by Peter O. Müller, Ingeborg Ohnheiser, Susan Olsen, and Franz Rainer, 626–658. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    Overview of morpho-syntactic, semantic, and aspectual features of VPCs in the Romance languages. Includes a section on the origins of Romance VPCs and offers an implicational scale of semantic concepts that can be expressed by them. Discusses the contemporary uneven distribution of VPCs across Romance languages.

  • Toivonen, Ida. 2020. Verbal particles, results, and directed motion. In The Cambridge handbook of Germanic linguistics. Edited by Michael T. Putnam, and B. Richard Page, 516–536. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Deals with the syntax of VPCs, including the debate discussed in the section Theoretical Linguistics and the Verb-Particle Paradox, as well as with how VPCs, cross-Germanically, relate to and interact with other constructions, such as the resultative construction, as in She painted the door black, and the directed motion construction, as in He elbowed her way towards the exit.

  • Verb Particle Constructions: A Bibliography. Edited by Nicole Dehé.

    Online bibliography created in the early 2000s and updated until 2015, containing over two hundred publications. Mainly focuses on syntax and morphology of particle verbs in Germanic languages, but takes a wider angle as well.

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