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Particle Verbs in English

A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective


Han Luo


Singapore: Springer, 2019

Hardcover. xvii+180 p. ISBN 978-9811368530. £74.99


Reviewed by Jean Albrespit

Université Bordeaux Montaigne




Han Luo’s book is based on her doctoral dissertation. The language is clear and fluid and makes a pleasant read. It is well-documented and provides the reader with a state-of-the-art review of the literature on particle verbs, which in itself is most interesting. The theoretical framework chosen for this study is that of Cognitive Grammar and it aims to categorize particle verbs using semantic classification. This approach provides a new perspective on a much-studied topic. The study is dictionary-based and corpus-based (the corpus used – sporadically – is the British National Corpus). It focuses on language at sentence level.

The book is organized around five main chapters (besides a substantial introduction – chapter 1 – and a conclusion – chapter 6), chapters 2 and 3 explaining the theory underlying the study and the different cognitive models (more specifically the conceptualization of “event”), chapter 4, the placement of the particle and chapter 5, a study of particle verbs in the light of idiomaticity and semantic extension.

An abstract is provided at the beginning of each chapter, a summary and a very informative list of references close each chapter. A summary is also provided by way of conclusion for each subpart. Transitions between subparts and chapters are smooth. This means that navigating this book is an enjoyable experience. The author has undeniably pedagogical qualities and clearly wishes to be as explicit as possible, even if this results in some repetitions. The text has been carefully proofread (there is only a slight mistake in the numbering of examples [128-129]). There is no index of terms or concepts – such an index would have been useful. The book ends with two appendices containing a test administered to native speakers and a list of 150 particle verbs that only allow one order (V-NP-Part or V-Part-NP) in the Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs (1989).

Ch. 1 (introduction) addresses the distinction between verb + particle constructions (“pick up”) and verb + preposition constructions (“run into”) and the classification of phrasal verbs according to the transitivity of the verb (“Poirot found out the details”), its intransitivity (“The prices came down last month”), or a complex particle-verb construction (“They made John out a liar”). Only the first two categories are examined in this book. Han Luo then analyses the semantic tri-partition of particle verbs – compositional, idiomatic and aspectual – and holds that these distinctions are not always clear-cut and are more often than not a matter of degree. The notion of idiomaticity (defined as follows: “the meaning of a composite expression is more than the sum of its parts or cannot be predicted from its components in isolation” [7]), in particular, is seen as correlated to that of semantic extension. The author then argues in favour of a different categorization and postulates three groups of particle verbs: directional, resultative and aspectual. She claims that these verbs are analysable “in the sense that native speakers are aware that the components (verb and particle), respectively, contribute to the meaning of particle verbs as a whole” [8] but that some particle verbs are unanalysable.

In Ch. 2, Han Luo, after a thorough investigation of the literature on particle verbs, sets about justifying the choice of Cognitive Linguistics as a theoretical framework. According to the author, “this view of language has the potential to give a unified explanation to the semantic and syntactic complexities as manifested in English particle verbs.”

Ch. 3 is about the syntax of the “verb + particle” expression and more specifically the conceptual content of particle-verb schemas. The schemas are deemed meaningful because of their conceptual content. The author examines definitions of cognitive models and conceptual events as propounded by Langacker, Goldberg, Dirven and Verspoor, Lakoff and Johnson, Fauconnier and Turner. She then focuses on Talmy’s (2000) theory of the Motion Event, which is a prototype from which the State Change Event and the Aspect Event are derived. Han Luo endorses Talmy’s conceptualization. The Motion Event (“Mary threw a box out”) is construed as the conceptual content of particle-verb schemas obtained from directional particle verbs. The particle designates the Path of Motion. The State Change Event (“The candle blew out”) is embodied by resultative particle verbs with the particle denoting the state change or the resultant state. In the Aspect Event (“He wrote up this report”) the particle carries the aspect of the described event. However, as the author states: “The aspectual nature of the particle […] is inherited from the meaning of particle-verb schemas rather than attributed to the sematic extension of individual particles” [81]. This chapter also features the results of a survey in which a small panel of native speakers were asked to decide which semantic group a selection of 50 particle verbs (out of a list of 200) belonged to and lends weight to the author’s proposed classification.

The aim of Ch. 4 is to account for the position of the particle (called “particle placement”) with transitive verbs (pick up the pen: "continuous order” vs pick the pen up: “discontinuous order”). This chapter focuses on idiomatic expressions such as “She fought back the tears” / "You’ll have to put your foot down.” The constraint in idiomatic particle verbs, as in the two examples “fight back” / "put X down” is explained by the way the particle verb has developed its idiomatic meaning: discontinuous order if the idiomatic meaning is extended from the inference associated with the sequential construal, continuous if developed from the inference of the holistic construal. With non-idiomatic verbs, the author stresses that “construal is largely a matter of emphasis” [116]. In the rest of the chapter, in a very interesting but disappointingly short section (“Corpus-Based Evidence”), Han Luo proceeds to test her results on a corpus of 500 “key particle verbs” extracted from the Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs.

Ch. 5 examines the idiomaticity of particle verbs as stemming from semantic extension in two aspects: the “levels” of semantic extension and the cognitive mechanisms (pragmatic strengthening, vantage point, profiling, framing, metonymy and conceptual metaphor) that motivate it. Semantic extension refers to a change in the use of the verb through metonymy or metaphor, for instance “fish" in "fish out a ring.” The author demonstrates that the idiomaticity of particle verbs is not only due to the semantic extension of the particle (as is claimed in the studies she has reviewed) but to the various “levels” (a debatable term) of the construction: the semantic extension of the verb, the particle, both the verb and the particle, the subject and object taken by the verb, the particle-verb schemas, the full particle verb and different levels simultaneously. A scale of idiomaticity is defined. The argumentation is convincing, although saying that “out” “means visible” or “invisible” in two examples [129] seems to be a shortcut which should be supported by a closer analysis.

Ch. 6 concludes the book with a summary of the major findings, practical implications for the teaching of English as a second language, an honest account of the limitations of the study and suggestions for further studies of particle verbs.

In conclusion, the reader will find thorough and reliable analyses in this book. It has a few minor defects inherent in the conversion of a PhD thesis into a monograph: a rather conventional introduction of the research questions, a presentation of the theoretical framework which tends to be a bit lengthy (compared to the systematic study of the corpus which arrives rather late in the game, page 117). The author’s voice deserves to be heard more forcefully. These remarks are not aimed at diminishing the value of the book, which will be a great reference book for scholars and students on a linguistic phenomenon at the interface of semantics and syntax.



Talmy, L. Toward a Cognitive Semantics (Vol. II). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.



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