I cut it by hand.

Does it (vaguely) make sense to call it a transitive verb?

1 Answer 1


By hand is not any kind of verb. It's an ordinary preposition phrase modifying the verb phrase cut it, describing the manner or means of cutting.

Because it modifies a verb phrase in the same way as an adverb like manually, many traditional grammarians would call this use of the phrase an "adverb phrase", because traditional grammar names the syntactic role a phrase after the part-of-speech which typically plays that role. We're pickier today—we reserve the term "adverb phrase" for phrases headed by an actual adverb—but some of us might call the phrase an "adverbial".

Don't be misled by that by; in this case by doesn't serve to designate the Agent of a passive-voice verb.

  • That's what I thought too - but in one of the IOL papers the question put "by hand" and "by tool" under transitive verbs so I was confused and a bit suspicious. Thank you for the detailed answer!
    – mike
    Jul 7, 2017 at 23:43
  • Interesting. My mother, who was an English professor, used the terms "adjectival phrase" and "adverbial phrase" when explaining them to me when I was a boy in the 60's.
    – BobRodes
    Jul 8, 2017 at 2:07
  • @BobRodes That is mystifying. How could a phrase headed by the preposition by be any but a preposition phrase? Jul 8, 2017 at 5:27
  • @P.E.Dant It's a preposition phrase employed as an adverbial is how. Jul 8, 2017 at 10:24
  • @BobRodes Indeed. My father (also an Eh prof) was likewise careful to distinguish the internal structure and the external syntactic function. Jul 8, 2017 at 10:25

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