It’s a Saturday morning, and Jack and Ian are playing catch in their backyard. Jack is twelve, his brother ten. After they have tossed a softball back and forth for a while, Jack announces that he’s going for a ride on his bike. Without waiting for a response, Jack mounts his bike and pedals off. “Wait up!” cries Ian, his older brother already far ahead.
Although Ian is probably unaware of it, he has just used a phrasal verb. In contrast to simple verbs, phrasal verbs contain two or more words, which function as a single semantic unit. “Wait up” differs in tone and meaning from “wait,” and it also differs from “wait around” or “wait out.” Phrasal verbs are a challenge for non-English speakers, who sometimes leave out the “particle”—the second word—or get it wrong. “I take my hat to you,” a Japanese acquaintance once wrote to me, intending to offer a compliment but instead evoking an image of a vigorous assault. (more…)