In my question about formal vs. casual noun phrases, I got to the point of distinguishing between causal and formal nouns.

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Notice that the noun phrases all end with -a, the noun-creator affix. That is because in English at least, to my understanding, noun phrases have the form:

[preceding stuff] [trailing noun]

So we can get by with always appending -a to the last word, making the whole thing a noun phrase.

But I'm not sure it works the same with "verb phrases" in English.

grow up
wake up
burn bridge
raise a glass
make a toast

I can only think of 2-word examples, but in these examples, the verb is first, not last. These are what I would call "formal" verb phrases, because they are basically standardized idioms or something like that. They go together. But you can extend the verb with modifiers/adverbs, like:

eventually quickly wake up
[preceding casual modifiers] [verb] [following formal modifiers]

Do I have this correct?

Are there languages which are more strict and make it so all "verb phrases" and noun phrases have the same general form?

[preceding formal modifiers] [verb/noun]

If that would be the case, then I would say (in the conlang), something like:

When I was young I wanted to up grow
I just up wake
Please don't bridge burn

That would greatly simplify the system, because you could join words in a formal chain with a simple suffix on each preceding word, like -o or -e in the image above, and then the final word in the verb phrase would end in -i. But if I have to allow for putting things on either side, then I might need to have prefixes in addition to suffixes, and it might get more complex. So looking for inspiration how other languages have handled this.

  • If I allowed having it after the verb, "kick it up a notch." -> "kiki eriq eyap enav enatxa"
    – Lance
    Oct 18, 2022 at 23:32
  • It appears German has this form, where the verb goes last.
    – Lance
    Oct 19, 2022 at 0:36
  • What became phrasal verbs (the technical term for what you have noticed) in English are descended from what became separable prefix verbs in German. In most simple sentences, the prefix separates (hence the name) from the verb and goes at the end of the clause; it's only when the verb itself is at the end of the clause that the separable prefix comes before it.
    – No Name
    Oct 19, 2022 at 5:34
  • that said, phrasal verb particles and separable prefixes are mostly descended from prepositions - meaning they used to go before nouns that are no longer expressed. That's why they go where they go, they are etymologically verb complements, which go after the verb. If you want them to come before the verb, you need SOV word order.
    – No Name
    Oct 19, 2022 at 5:38

1 Answer 1


Verbs like "wake up" and "turn on" are known as phrasal verbs in English, and they have some very interesting syntactic properties. For example, "turn on" (phrasal, meaning "betray") acts differently from "turn on" (not phrasal, meaning "activate"): "she turned on him" versus "she turned him on".

For the most part, these are a peculiarity of English syntax. German has its own version, known as the separable prefix verbs, since a piece of them sometimes detaches and moves to the end of the sentence (aufgehen "to get up" → ich gehe auf "I get up").

But most other Indo-European languages just represent them by adding a morpheme to the verb, like Latin gradior "walk", ingredior "go in", ēgredior "go out", transgredior "go across", regredior "go back", dīgredior "go away", and so on. Pretty much any English word ending in -gress was formed this way: ingress, egress, transgress, regress, digress, etc.

Another option, more common in East Asia, is known as serial verbs. You put multiple verbs together in a row to form a more complex meaning. Here's an example from Maonan (taken from Wikipedia which cites Lu Tian Qiao 2008):

ɦe2 sə:ŋ3 lət8 pa:i1 dzau4 van6 ma1 ɕa5 vɛ4 kau5 fin1 kam5
I want walk go take return come try do look accomplish ?

Very literally, "I want to walk, go, take, return, come, try, do, look, and accomplish. Okay?" More idiomatically, "Could I walk over, bring it back, and try it out?" Those more elaborate verbs are formed from several simpler verbs strung together without any nouns or other elements in between.

Phrases like "make a toast" are just idioms, and they act like any other verb and object in English. You can "make a quick toast" or "make another toast", for example. There's nothing special about them syntactically.

  • Are there examples of phrasal verbs in English which are 3, 4+ words long? I can't think of any that are that long, and how you would translate the longest of them into a prefix like in Latin. Would be great to see an example of that.
    – Lance
    Oct 22, 2022 at 6:49
  • @Lance As a rule, phrasal verbs in English consist of a verb and a preposition, so two words.
    – Draconis
    Oct 22, 2022 at 15:32
  • Interesting and related note, in Chinese there are often 2 or 3 word serial-verb constructions (SVC), like those found in The Linguistic Encoding of Motion Events in Chinese "Ma Qing pay-finish fee,last one CL from car-inside stride-exit-go".
    – Lance
    Nov 3, 2022 at 18:29
  • 1
    @Lance Yep, one of the key features of serial verbs is that you can usually chain them together. The Maonan example above consists of ten verb words in a row!
    – Draconis
    Nov 3, 2022 at 18:32
  • Interesting, reading that many verbs in a row it's hard to make sense of it, so maybe I just need to learn the language :]
    – Lance
    Nov 3, 2022 at 19:39

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