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The Cambridge dictionary says:

"Prepositional verbs have two parts: a verb and a preposition which cannot be separated from each other."

If they cannot be separated, does it mean that we can't put a verb's preposition at the beginning?

At what are you looking?

After whom are you looking?

From what did you prevent me?

Of what are you accusing me?

Do you believe these questions are correct?

In my opinion, they are incorrect because they seem weird as well as breaking the definition of Cambridge about prepositional verbs, because they are separated in those questions.

So I will be happy to see your comments. Thank you very much.

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You're confusing preposition and "prepositional verbs".

Multi-word verbs are verbs which consist of a verb and one or two particles or prepositions (e.g. up, over, in, down). There are three types of multi-word verbs: phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs and phrasal-prepositional verbs. Sometimes, the name ‘phrasal verb’ is used to refer to all three types.

For example, I've found where you have gotten your quote from and it even provides a table of "prepositional verbs". Notice how the "prepositional verb" which consists of the verb and preposition next to each other and cannot be separated:

enter image description here


  • italics are the verbs
  • bold are the prepositions
  1. At what are you looking?

  2. After whom are you looking?

  3. From what did you prevent me?

  4. Of what are you accusing me?

In these sentences, they are prepositions and the verbs are clearly separated and so are not prepositional verbs, so the initial statement about:

"Prepositional verbs have two parts: a verb and a preposition which cannot be separated from each other."

does not apply.

Furthermore, they can be reworded so that the preposition shifts to the clause-final position

  1. What are you looking at?

  2. Whom are you looking after?

  3. What did you prevent me from?

  4. What are you accusing me of?

  • (5) look at and (6) look after are not prepositional verbs, though they can be.
  • in (5) to (8), the object of preposition is the wh-phrase.
  • prepositional verbs which are used transitively can be separated
  • prepositional verbs which are not used transitively cannot be separated
  • look at and look after are both transitive-prepostional verbs

Prepositions vs preposition verbs:

Usually, transitve-prepositional verbs don’t make sense without an object.:

Look at:

He looked at ______ .

Look after:

It’s hard work looking after _______ .


The preposition (particle) cannot be moved/reversed most of the time in prepositional verbs:

Look at:

✓ He looked at her.

At her he looked.

Look after:

✓ It’s hard work looking after three children all day.

Looking after three children all day it's hard work


References:

Prepositions vs Phrasal verbs https://www.temple.edu/writingctr/english-language-learners/documents/Prepositionsvs.Prepositionalphraseshandout.pdf

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/phrasal-verbs

  • There are many things destroying each other here. You said: "Look at" is not a prepositional verb, though can be. If it is not a prepositional verb, why can't we say:"At him, you should look." ? It totally means that they should be together. Additionally, the example you gave for "look after" has no meaning. You should check it by putting "after" at the beginning, not the verb. If you look at it like this, no English verb can be a prepositional verb. After three children, I will look everyday. Does it have any meaning? For me, it has no meaning. So they should be together. – Jawel Jun 19 '18 at 16:33
  • @Jawel in "At him, you should look" is not grammatically incorrect per se, but because English does not differentiate between the nominative and oblique case, it's better to separate the pronouns. So him/you are both oblique cases meaning they can be both subject and object in the sentence. Basically, in "At him you should look"--it's not clear what the subject or object is when they're next to each other, but if it were separated "You should look at him" it is much more clearer what the subject/object is. – aesking Jun 29 '18 at 21:08
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These are the sort of sentences that I would expect to see from people who adhere to the false notion that 'you should never end a sentence with a preposition'. The people who adhere to that "rule" would possibly say these sentences are correct. I agree with you, they are weird.

In normal English these sentences would become:

What are you looking at?

Who are you looking after?

What did you prevent me from?

What are you accusing me of?

Your use of 'whom' in the second sentence is grammatically correct, but the distinction between 'who' and 'whom' is, unfortunately , declining, so in common usage 'who' is used exclusively.

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