A Homily on the Homely “Preposition”

Two fellows are walking down a city street.  One says to the other,

“Did you see that magician?”                                                                                                             “No,  why,  what happened?”                                                                                                             “He just turned into a jewelry store.”

“This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”–Attributed to Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

In our two previous postings,  we have meditated a bit on the traditional eight classifications (or “parts of speech”) of the words used in discourse in the English language.

One of the interesting–and also confusing–facts about the class “preposition” is that what we often identify as a preposition is really the second part of a two-part verb,  the part I have come to refer to as a “particle.”

What we often object to, in fact, is what “Churchill” made fun of in the quotation above:  the “rule”  from Miss Grundy or Sister Mary that we should not end a sentence with a preposition.   In truth and in practice,  however,  it is usually the case that what we are calling a “preposition” is actually a verb particle.

In the sentence about the magician’s disappearance,  “into” is functioning as a true preposition.  And we would find it strange if somebody did write or say,  “He turned a jewelry store into.”  That is unless we extended it like this,  “He turned a jewelry store into a shoe store.”

Here are three verb particle constructions that most of us probably will recognize (popular stuff from the 1960s):  “Turn on,  tune in,  drop out.”  This is Timothy Leary with his mantra to the youth of the day.  We can test the difference here between the preposition (which requires a noun or pronoun object) and the particle.

Note how easy, at least with the first and last phrases to turn the two-part verb into a noun as in (1)  “That LSD was a real turn-on,”  or (2)  “It’s better to be a drop-out than accept indoctrination by the public school system.”   “Tune in” doesn’t sound natural when converted to a noun.  But it doesn’t sound too unnatural like this:   “Better tune your parents out and tune me in.”  In these two instances “out” and “in” seem closer to the adverb than to the pure preposition, and ending the sentence with the avowed preposition “in” works well.

So the rule of thumb is this:   if the two-word phrase we’re considering can be converted readily to either a blended noun or too something like a verb + adverb,  we are not really talking about a “preposition.”  Here is a brief list of two-part verbs that have been converted in the English language to nouns in popular use:

tune up >  tune-up    sit in > sit-in   put down >  put-down    drive in >  drive-in  sit up  >   sit-up   beat up   >  beat-up   wash out  >  wash-out    spin off  > spin-0ff

The second part of testing for whether a two-part verb is really such is to construct an example sentence in which the two-part verb will require a direct object:  even though the particle might follow that object.  Witness:  “Jon turned up the volume”  still works fine as “Jon turned the volume up.”   “Up” is therefore a verb particle and not a preposition.

During my active teaching career,  I don’t recall a thorough study of the different uses of the “preposition” having been done.  Maybe I will try to find out.

In the meantime:  perhaps each of you can come up with at least one other example of the two-part verb’s being converted to a hyphenated noun.

Hope you will have a “hallowed” rather than a “hollow”  weekend!  TRICK OR TREAT!



7 Responses to “A Homily on the Homely “Preposition””

  1. prayerwarrior_52 Says:

    this posting reminds me of a pet peeve I have developed against the news reporters concerning the use of “down east”. It irritates my nerves as a fingernail on a chalkboard would send the shivers down my spine. Could someone possibly explain to me the misconception of the” east” being “down” to me please?

  2. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Just guessing here, not sure if they are correct…
    Dine-in, dine-out, run-out, run-in, jump-in, jump-out, wash-up, drink-up, yell-out, clean-up, jump-up, sing-out, torn-up, ripped-up, and laughed-out.

  3. prayerwarrior_52 Says:

    I like telling the cat she has to get down off my lap so I can get up. LOL

  4. Tammy Stephens Says:

    That’s cute!

  5. Tammy Stephens Says:

    What about win-win (situation) and so-so?

  6. fayettenam hoe Says:

    are you that blind?

  7. prayerwarrior_52 Says:

    my thoughts to fayettenam hoe
    Your negative thoughts really must go
    I prefer to stay optimistic
    While I remain realistic
    Your negativity makes me tired
    As The Trump would say
    “You are fired!”

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