Is It Preposition or Adverb (Particle)?

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Adverbs and prepositions can be easily differentiated from each other in regular course as they serve entirely different roles in a sentence. But when the same word is used as an adverb and a preposition – of course in different contexts – the challenge to identify it as one or the other goes up by few notches. Here is an example of down used as preposition and adverb.

The boulder came hurtling down the hill. [Preposition]

The team was two goals down by half time. [Adverb]

There are several words similar to down that can function as adverb as well as preposition. Some of the common ones are above, across, after, along, before, behind, below, between, beyond, down, in, near, on, out, outside, over, since, through, under, and up.

The challenge rises even further if such dual words are a constituent of phrasal verbs.

In this post, we’ll look at ways to tell such common words apart as adverb and preposition, first, when they’re not part of a phrasal verb and, second, when they’re part of phrasal verbs.

Other such pairs of parts of speech too can create confusion. Here are few:

Adverb or preposition? The word is not a part of phrasal verb.

This one is pretty straightforward and dull, but nonetheless it has to be covered. So, here it is.

We know that a preposition is followed by a noun as its object (or complement), with the combined entity named prepositional phrase. (Note that a noun includes noun word, noun phrase, and a noun clause.) Therefore, if the word in question is followed by a noun as its object, the word is a preposition.

If the word isn’t followed by a noun, check if it’s modifying an adjective, a verb, or an adverb. If yes, then it’s an adverb. You can also confirm that the word is an adverb by seeing if it’s answering adverbial questions such as when, where, in what manner, etc. Examples:

I left office after finishing the work. [Preposition. It is followed by a gerund phrase finishing the work, which functions as noun.]

We can meet next week or the week after. [Adverb modifying the verb and answering when]

I was standing behind the person wearing an expensive suit. [Preposition. It is followed by the noun phrase the person wearing an expensive suit]

The policeman was attacked from behind. [Adverb modifying the verb and answering from which direction]

The reigning champion is nowhere near her last year’s performance. [Preposition. It is followed by the noun phrase her last year’s performance]

The deadline is drawing near. [Adverb modifying the verb and answering when]

In the above sentences, adverb is functioning like a regular adverb. But in phrasal verbs, it works somewhat differently, even getting the name ‘adverbial particle’ or just ‘particle’ when used in phrasal verbs.

As you’ll see, in phrasal verbs, deciding between preposition and adverb can be challenging, but if you follow the rules and practice enough sentences in the example section, you should do fine.

Adverb or preposition? The word is part of phrasal verb.

Are the underlined words adverb or preposition?

Many went through financial and other difficulties during the pandemic.

You can’t give up without a fight.

The police clamped down on drug trafficking.

The words through and on are prepositions, and up and down are adverbs. Explanation in a bit.

In the above sentences, went through, give up, and clamped down on are phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are formed by combining verbs with prepositions, adverbs, or both, resulting in a single idiomatic unit whose meaning can’t be understood from its parts.

In phrasal verbs, adverbs are called particles as they don’t perform the regular function of an adverb, even though they seem to modify verbs. In the above sentences, for example, nothing directional is meant by up in give up or by down in clamped down on, even though they seem to be modifying give and clamped, respectively. In that sense, particles don’t have meaning of their own, although the phrasal verb has. (From here on, we’ll call an adverb in phrasal verb an adverbial particle.)

Here is how you can identify prepositions and adverbial particles in phrasal verbs.

Let’s call the word we’re trying to identify as preposition or adverbial particle as ‘word’.

Scenario 1: If the word is not followed by a noun, it’s an adverbial particle

As we saw earlier, a preposition is followed by a noun as its object. So, if the word in the phrasal verb is not followed by a noun, it’s an adverbial particle. In none of the following sentences, the word is followed by a noun, and hence we can straightaway say that the word is an adverbial particle.

You can’t give up without a fight.

The facts don’t quite add up.

The jeep broke down at the most inopportune time.

You can come in now.

Scenario 2: If the word is followed by a noun, it could be any of the two

If the word in the phrasal verb is followed by a noun, it’ll mostly be a preposition, but it could also be an adverbial particle (in case of transitive verb). In the following sentences, the word is followed by a noun, and it could be adverbial particle or adverb.

I haven’t yet gotten over the tragedy unleashed by the second wave of the pandemic.

To escape the penalty, I made up an excuse.

The dog ran up the ramp.

My car has run up a huge bill.

So, in such cases, how do you tell if the word is adverbial particle or preposition?

Here is a way.

Move the noun in front of the word and see if the group of words make sense. If it doesn’t, then the word is a preposition. (This is because the object of a preposition can’t be moved before the preposition without convoluting the phrase.) If it does, then the word is an adverbial particle. Let’s try this test to above four sentences and see if the underlined group of words make sense.

I haven’t yet gotten the tragedy over unleashed by the second wave of the pandemic. [Doesn’t make sense, implying over is a preposition]

To escape the penalty, I made an excuse up. [Makes sense, implying up is an adverbial particle]

The dog ran the ramp up. [Doesn’t make sense, implying up is a preposition]

My car has run a huge bill up. [Makes sense, implying up is an adverbial particle]

Scenario 3: Phrasal verb contains adverbial particle as well as preposition

Sometimes, a phrasal verb may contain an adverbial particle as well as a preposition in the order ‘verb + adverbial particle + preposition’, in which case an object will be required (because of presence of preposition).

The police clamped down on drug trafficking. [down and on are adverbial particle and preposition, respectively]

It all boils down to who wins the toss. [down and to are adverbial particle and preposition, respectively]

I struggle to keep up with emails, text messages, and calls pouring in through the day. [up and with are adverbial particle and preposition, respectively]

Examples: Identify words as adverb or preposition

Let’s apply what we’ve covered in this post.

For each sentence below, identify whether the underlined word is an adverb, preposition, or adverbial particle. There are only few examples of adverb vs. preposition (the first part we covered) but many more of the more complex topic of adverbial particle vs. preposition (the second part we covered).

In case of phrasal verbs (or adverbial particle vs. preposition), the answer also mentions the scenario (1, 2, or 3) so that you know which test has been applied to arrive at the answer.

1. I’ve been living in this city for five years.

Preposition. It’s part of the phrasal verb living in. [Scenario 2]

2. Many went through financial and other difficulties during the pandemic.

Preposition. It’s part of the phrasal verb went through. [Scenario 2]

3. I tried calling you multiple times yesterday but couldn’t get through.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb get through. [Scenario 1]

4. We want this committee out.

Adverb

5. I opened the drawer and took out a blank paper.

Preposition. It’s part of the phrasal verb took out. [Scenario 2]

6. Despite incessant rain, the river has stayed below the danger mark.

Preposition. It’s part of the phrasal verb stayed below. [Scenario 2]

7. Second floor and below can’t be accessed through an elevator.

Adverb

8. The plane took off at 9 AM sharp.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb took off. [Scenario 1]

9. The two parties failed to iron out their differences even after third meeting.

Preposition. It’s part of the phrasal verb iron out. [Scenario 2]

10. I lied down for a while as I was feeling dizzy.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb lie down. [Scenario 1]

11. You can find a Thai restaurant a mile down this road.

Adverb

12. The storm has calmed down.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb calmed down. [Scenario 1]

13. In the conference, I ran into my classmate from High School.

Preposition. It’s part of the phrasal verb ran into. [Scenario 2]

14. His first book was a blockbuster, and he has since signed a fat book deal.

Adverb

15. I haven’t visited the town since leaving college.

Preposition

16. After the fire died down, the forest officials went about estimating the loss to flora and fauna.

Adverbial particle (down) and Preposition (about). They’re part of phrasal verbs died down and went about, respectively. [Scenario 1/Scenario 2]

17. I got out of my last job just at the right time.

Adverbial particle (out) and Preposition (of). They’re part of the phrasal verb got out of. [Scenario 3]

18. We’re looking forward to the summer vacation.

Adverbial particle (forward) and Preposition (to). They’re part of the phrasal verb looking forward to. [Scenario 3]

19. Hand over the money.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb hand over. [Scenario 2]

20. He forced the pin down. [Adverb]

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb force down. [Scenario 1. When the verb is transitive, the adverbial particle may come before or after the object of the verb]

21. The crowd pinned down the suspect.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb pin down. [Scenario 2]

22. I picked up the trash from the road.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb pick up. [Scenario 2]

23. The work picked up speed gradually. [Preposition]

Preposition. It’s part of the phrasal verb pick up. [Scenario 2]

24. It’s difficult to take on competitors with such limited resources.

Adverbial particle. It’s part of the phrasal verb take on. [Scenario 2]

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  1. Wonderful and valuable information about Phrasal verb.keep it up sir

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