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When Sam came in, I was asleep.

The definition of a phrasal verb is a verb that is made up of the main verb together with an adverb or a preposition or both. My question is

  1. What should we consider 'in', as a preposition or adverb and why?

  2. Is there any simple way to determine whether it will be preposition or adverb after the main verb in case of phrasal verbs?

  • It's a preposition, more specifically a 'stranded preposition', i.e. one that does not have a complement. But "come in" is not a verbal idiom (your phrasal verb). What makes you think it is? – BillJ Jun 24 '18 at 11:07
  • Hey, thanks for pointing out but I hope my question is clear to you. Actually, I have given a wrong example. But 'come in' can be used as a phrasal verb like: Finish a race in a specified position "the favourite came in first" – Ritwik Bhattacharyya Jun 26 '18 at 13:42
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There is not a clear cut answer to this, it depends on whose opinion you accept. Grammarians regularly dispute questions such as this, some insisting that it is a preposition (because of the type of word it is), and others that it is an adverb (because of the function it carries out).

In your sentence:

When Sam came in, I was asleep.

'in' functions in the role of an adverb, modifying the verb 'came'. It is telling us where Sam came.

In the following sentence:

When Sam came in my room, I was asleep.

'in' is clearly a preposition showing the relationship between the subject ('Sam') and the object ('room') of the sentence.

In essence, when a preposition follows a verb and the sentence does not have an object, then the prepositions functions as an adverb. In my opinion, it is correct to call it an adverb. However, there are some who would still call it a preposition.

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