Disclamer: I have a very limited knowledge about linguistics, so the things I'm talking might be completely nonsense.

In German we can form new verbs by attaching prepositions (?) to it:


Sometimes we see this in English too:

out + live = outlive
over + take = overtake

I'm wondering what if my language puts every preposition before the verb, like

I give my pen to him. → I togive my pen him.

(The two objects should be distinguished by dative / accusative case, but there's no such thing in English.)

Is this acceptable / natural?

  • Possible and acceptable: yes! But did you think about multiple prepositions, like in I travelled from London to Rome via Paris? Of course you can stack the prepositions in some well-defined order, saying I fromtoviatravelled London Rome Paris.
    – Sir Cornflakes
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 13:16
  • @SirCornflakes I should have clarified that I'm using this for verbal phrases (its meaning has little to do with the original word), like give out (a smell etc.) → outgive. Thanks for your comment!
    – atzlt
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 13:43

2 Answers 2


You're conflating a couple different things here.

First are phrasal verbs in English, where attaching a preposition to a verb gives it a different meaning: "call" vs "call off", for example. In other Indo-European languages, it's very common to use a prefix on the verb instead; German does this (with its separable prefixes) but so do Latin and Greek.

Second are prepositional phrases, where a preposition indicates how a noun relates to the action. You can generally have as many of these as you like: "I read about badgers for six hours at the office on Friday…"

Rather than using prepositions like this, some languages do mark their verbs to indicate the roles of the nouns that follow them. For example, in Lingála, you can put a special marking on the verb to indicate that the next noun will be the beneficiary of the action. I'm not aware of any language that lets you do this with an unlimited number of nouns, though; at some point you'll have to use prepositions (or some kind of marking on the noun rather than the verb) for that level of specificity.

  • Thanks for your answer! Some off-topic question: should I put this prefixed verb in a separate entry in the dictionary, or in a sub-entry of the verb stem?
    – atzlt
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 11:08
  • @atzlt That part is up to you, but it could depend on how unpredictable the meaning is.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 15:47

You've observed a very real phenomenon; it sounds like you just haven't learned the name for it yet.


I'm wondering what if my language puts every preposition before the verb, like

I give my pen to him. → I togive my pen him.

(The two objects should be distinguished by dative / accusative case, but there's no such thing in English.)

is called an applicative construction.

The applicative is an example of a "valency-increasing operation" - similar to the causative, and opposite to the passive - that you do to a verb to promote an oblique object to a direct object. ("Oblique" in this context is a catch-all term basically for anything that isn't the subject or direct object.) In German, since direct objects are marked by the accusative case, this means the applicative would be a modification you make to verbs that take a dative or genitive object, and transforms that verb into a verb that takes an accusative object.

Applicatives are probably most famous in Bantu languages like Swahili, but they're common worldwide. WALS' survey implies that ~45% of the world's languages have a morphologized applicative construction - although their methodology is kind of wonky; the sample size is only 183 (for comparison, the object-verb word order survey has a sample size of over 1500) and doesn't count English and German even though both arguably do have an applicative.

Your particular example of *"I togive my pen him." is a little awkward though in that it has two direct objects simultaneously. You promoted the oblique object "to him" to the direct object "him" - good - but then you also kept the old direct object "my pen". Not all languages with an applicative necessarily allow that - they might require you to delete the existing direct object, or else relegate it to an oblique role. But some languages, called double-object languages, don't distinguish direct vs. indirect objects in ditransitives anyway - they're all just "objects" - so for them, the applicative really is equivalent to just slapping an extra object onto the verb.

If we go back to WALS and combine the maps for 109B (Other Roles of Applied Objects) and 105A (Ditransitive Constructions: The Verb 'give'), you get this map. With "Legend" in the top left corner, we can filter for just the languages that have an applicative construction (a value of anything other than "No applicative construction" in the first column) and double object marking in ditransitives ("Double-object construction" or "Mixed" in the second column), and we find that e.g. Swahili and Indonesian would theoretically allow something like your example sentence. I speak neither so I can't really personally confirm that though.

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