Aspects of the history of English group-verbs: With particular attention to the syntax of the Ormulum

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Two complementary investigations are made of verb-particle collocations: a diachronic study of a range of texts from Alfredian prose to the Paston Letters, with some later examples, and a synchronic study of the Ormulum, a collection of metrical homilies dated c.1200. An introduction, description of particle group-verbs in present-day English and assessment of the syntactic evidence of the Ormulum are followed by chapters on the adverb/preposition/prefix distinctions, the phrasal verb (e.g. fall out, use up), the prepositional verb (e.g. deal with), and other group-verbs (e.g. get on with, take notice of). Each of the main chapters deals first with the general history and then with the Ormulum. An eighth chapter weighs the evidence for Scandinavian influence on the English development, followed by a concluding chapter and classified bibliography.The development of word-order and growth of idiomatic meaning in the phrasal verb are traced. Completive up is a probable but unproven semantic borrowing from Old Norse, whereas other idiomatic particle functions are seen as indigenous developments. Early evidence of syntactic restructuring of prepositional verbs in active clauses is collected, and amongst the many factors adduced for the appearance of the prepositional passive is a short-lived development of quasi-elliptical prepositional use before clauses. The prepositional passive (He was dealt with) is found to be quite different in origin from the indirect passive (He was dealt an ace).A detailed analysis of particle usage in the Ormulum, including survivals of the Old English prefixal system, reveals that post-verbal position for adverbial particles is the norm, that particles introducing infinitive clauses show interesting adverb/preposition indeterminacy and greatest idiomatic development, and that Scandinavian influence is surprisingly low.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Oxford University
  • University of Oxford
Publication statusPublished - 1981