Is "going on" a phrasal verb in the question "What's going on?"

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  • I agree with you. – Maulik V Aug 25 '15 at 11:13
  • Agree about what? – Zoltan King Aug 25 '15 at 11:16
  • I just wanted to know if 'going on' is a phrasal verb or not. – Zoltan King Aug 25 '15 at 12:00

In a word, Yes. To go on can be an ordinary "verb + preposition", as in I go on the bus to get to work, or Superman's underpants go on the outside of his costume. But it's also a phrasal verb with several different meanings, including these as given by usingenglish.com...

1: Continue
He went on and on talking and I was so bored.

2: Happen
There are loads of people out in the street; what's going on?

3: Start doing or taking something
She went on the pill when she met him

4: Be guided
The investigators have no clues to go on

5: Be nearly (a certain period of time)
It's going on ten years since we met

6: Progress
They asked me how the project was going on

7: Spend money
Most of my salary goes on my mortgage repayments

8: Start working (electric/electronic equipment)
The alarm goes on when you close the front door.

Note that depending on your exact definition of "phrasal verb" you might include other senses (or exclude one or more of the above).

  • I think the example 4 in your answer could be rewritten as "The investigators have no clues on which to go". Am I wrong? – Victor Bazarov Aug 25 '15 at 13:20
  • Same applies to the example 5, methinks. And the example 7, in which 'on' is a simple preposition for the object, and not part of the phrasal verb. – Victor Bazarov Aug 25 '15 at 13:22
  • @Victor: Your rewrite for #4 is certainly "credible", but I must be honest and point out that whereas, say, Just give me something to go on is perfectly ordinary, you might raise a few eyebrows if you rephrased to Just give me something on which to go. And as to whether all these examples are really "phrasal verbs" by your definition, I'm just reporting what that particular website cites (I myself wouldn't call #7 or #8 "typical" examples, but the term itself doesn't have a single unambiguous meaning, as I pointed out). – FumbleFingers Aug 25 '15 at 14:56
  • I think their ('usingenglish.com') definition of a phrasal verb is a stable combination that does not allow any word to be put between the verb and the preposition. Ex.7 fails that, for sure, since it's possible to write "Most of my salary goes directly on my mortgage repayments". Is there something I misconstrued? – Victor Bazarov Aug 25 '15 at 15:13
  • @Victor: I think that's your definition. The page I linked to includes a further link to their definition(s), wherein they separately identify "inseparable" phrasal verbs, and both "optional" and "obligatory" "separable" ones. I don't see any point in getting hung up over the precise details of terminology, but it is useful to learn when/how you can split the elements of any given phrasal verb. – FumbleFingers Aug 25 '15 at 15:22

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