Definition of phrasal verbs

nigele2

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In a recent thread jutfrank offered, “A common view (that I share) of phrasal verbs is that they are to some extent non-literal.” And this part definition appeared to have the support of other posters.

However, searching the internet, or consulting dictionaries, more often than not, leaves the student unaware of this definition.

So, to my questions:


  1. What is the value of introducing this concept (that multi-word verbs are not phrasal verbs when used in a literal way) to students? Is there any? And at what level might it add value?
  2. Do the creators of official certification exam questions accept this definition?

I will say that my main focus is teaching students who need to gain an ESL certification.

Any thoughts very welcome.
 

jutfrank

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I agree with everything Piscean says above.

I think you shouldn't worry about trying to define them. I don't think either teachers or learners need to do this.

A learner's ability to classify something as a phrasal verb is certainly not something that an examiner would be interested in. Exams are interested in learners' competence with the meaning/use of language in context rather than in correct labelling.
 
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NinjaTurtle

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Nigele,

Phrasal verbs are very important. Consider these examples:

break up
break down
break in
break out

All of these have definitions that foreigners learning English cannot figure out from context.

We can make it even more complicated:

break it up
break it down
break it in
break it out

I do not think test graders treat these any differently than 'regular' verbs.

You asked, "What is the value of introducing this concept (that multi-word verbs are not phrasal verbs when used in a literal way) to students?"

--> Can you give some examples?
 

nigele2

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Many thanks to everyone who offered information on this. I clearly did not phrase my questions well enough based on the replies, and for that I apologise.

I have however completed research and had a few interesting discussions along the way.

My conclusions I offer out of interest. Nothing more.

From numerous respectable sources, including here, I can find many conflicting definitions of “phrasal verbs”.

Q1: What is the value of introducing this concept (that multi-word verbs are not phrasal verbs when used in a literal way) to students? Is there any? And at what level might it add value?

I can see that for my students up to C1, that changing their understanding of phrasal verbs (which does not differentiate between literal and non-literal) offers no benefit to them.

Q2. Do the creators of official certification exam questions accept this definition?

Some of my students have been told that if they use “phrasal verbs” in informal writing they are likely to receive higher makes. They are also told that they should limit their usage in formal writing. Sadly, getting hold of the advice sheets issued to exam markers is proving difficult, but I will get there.

An aside, I consulted one of my students about this matter. Two days later she offered the following scenario:

Mary: “Jane put down your coffee”, (meaning, free up your hands).
Jane passes her coffee to John.
Mary passes the large birthday cake to Jane.

I was asked if this was a literal use of a phrasal verb.

I do not offer this as a thought on phrasal verbs, but I was quite impressed by her logical thinking.
 

jutfrank

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Q1: The value is in equipping learners with the skills to recognise the sense of any of language that is being used non-literally.

Q2: Examiners need not accept or reject any definition. What exams do you know of that require classifying something as, or as not, a phrasal verb? Examiners are basically interested in only two things as far as phrasal verbs are concerned: a) whether the learner can understand their uses (in reading and listening tasks) and b) whether the learner can produce them appropriately (in writing and speaking).
 
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