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Prepositional Verb Annotation Guidelines
New Guidelines for Annotating Prepositional Verbs
July 11, 2015
When it comes to determining what qualifies as a multiword expression (MWE), verb+preposition combinations are notoriously difficult. We focus here on prepositional verbs like come across. (This document should be considered an addendum to the original MWE Annotation Guidelines.)
Prepositional verbs are limited to cases where syntactically, the preposition takes a complement (object). This EXCLUDES:
- Intransitive combinations like He woke up.
- Combinations in the verb-particle construction. These participate in an alternation where the particle may follow the verb, or its direct object: He woke up all the sleeping children. ↔ He woke all the sleeping children up. The particle is said to be intransitive, though the verb is transitive.
For the high-frequency prepositions about, at, by, for, from, of, on, in, to, and with, we reviewed most of the verb+transitive preposition combinations previously annotated as MWEs in the STREUSLE corpus. [We did not find any with as.] We observed that many of the prepositions have a natural preposition supersense that would be eclipsed if it is treated an an integral part of the verb semantics. Thus, we decided to limit the "strong" MWE analyses to cases with the tightest possible relationship between the verb and the preposition. Remaining cases could be analyzed as (possibly productive/not fully opaque) collocations, a.k.a. "weak" MWEs.
The criterion for strong verb+preposition MWEs is that the preposition cannot be omitted without markedly altering the meaning of the verb. We say that such a preposition is "integral" to the verbal semantics. To assess this for a particular combination, we apply the following test:
In response to a declarative sentence with the verb+preposition combination, is there a natural way to query the circumstances of the verbal event using the verb, but not the preposition?
For example, come across fails this test:
— I came across a nice restaurant downtown.
— #When did you come?
Here the answer happens to be syntactically well-formed, but only because there is another sense of come. Thus, we say that across is integral to the meaning, and therefore, come across is a prepositional verb.
A combination can pass the test if the preposition applies productively to add meaning, even if this part of the meaning is not paraphrased or left implicit in the question:
— I used to go to a school across town.
— Why did you go there?
We deem the following to be integral:
- attend to
- avail oneself of
- belong to
- call for 'demand'
- come from 'be born at'
- come with 'characteristically include'
- consist of
- count on
- deal in (wares)
- [deal drugs — separate sense]
- deal with (counterpart or problem)
- end up with
- fall for (hoax)
- fend for oneself
- get away with 'get by with'
- keep from
- know s.o. for s.t.
- make up for 'compensate for; balance out'
- put up with
- refer to (resource)
- [refer s.o. to 'give a recommendation or professional reference' - separate sense; destination/recipient PP optional with a direct object, similar to 'send']
- (software) run on (platform) — stative
- [run (software) on platform — separate sense]
- specialize in
- stand for
- stick with
- take care of
- talk down to
- tend to
- TODO: care for sense? or have a tendency sense?
- think of 'come up with'
- turn to 'become'
Not integral—preposition can be omitted, though there may be a register difference (omitting it sounds highly colloquial):
- settle for
- watch out for
Not integral (possibly collocated):
- argue with
- ask for 'request'
- ask to
- beware of
- bother with
- buy from
- care about
- catch up with
- check back with
- check for 'examine for'
- check on
- come away from
- comment on
- compliment on
- cope with
- disagree with
- enroll in
- feel (way) about
- go to 'attend school'
- introduce to
- listen to
- look at
- look for 'search for'
- made for 'designed to facilitate' — stative
- meet with 'have a meeting with'
- nibble on
- pay for
- perform (work) on
- plan on
- present s.o. with
- recommend to s.o.
- reek of
- refer s.o. to 'give a recommendation or professional reference' [see above for other sense]
- save from
- speak to
- speak with
- suck at (activity)
- take time off of
- talk to
- talk with
- treat s.o. to s.t.
- wait for
- work for (employer)
- work on
- work with
- yell at
Remarks on the circumstance-question test for integral prepositions
Relationship to question tests in the literature
Tseng (2000, pp. 54–60) discusses three question test formulations: one from Rauh (1993), one from Quirk (1985), and an adaptation of Quirk's, which according to Tseng comes closest to separating prototypically "lexical" ("Type A") from "functional" ("Type B") prepositions. The test is stated as follows (p. 57):
[functional]: (i) questions with who, what possible, and
(ii) all question forms must retain preposition
[lexical]: all other constructions
It should be clear that our test for "integral" prepositions is very similar, but modifies condition (i) to ask about circumstantials rather than core participants (who/what). The essence, in our view, is in condition (ii): that questions must retain the preposition along with the verb.
Our resulting category of "integral" prepositions may not exactly match Tseng's "functional" prepositions, though it appears to be close. Some difficult examples:
Tseng observes that his test fails for several cases, including die of (How did she die? is an acceptable question for She died of pneumonia; p. 59), which Tseng puts in the functional group. It is worth noting, though, that die from would also be an acceptable paraphrase, so perhaps it is not as tied to the verb as our "integral" prepositions. We classify the similar combination reek of as nonintegral.
Tseng includes "prevent from" as an example of a functional preposition (He tried desperately to prevent the film from being released; p. 17); this, however, would fail the criteria for functional prepositions (?What did he try...to prevent the film from?; What did he try to prevent?) and our criterion for integral prepositions (When did he try to prevent it?). From functions similarly in save from, which we also deem nonintegral, and in keep from, which we consider integral (#When did he try to keep the film?). Though the from has a similar semantics with all three verbs, it takes on special importance (is more "integral") when used with keep, which would otherwise be confused with another sense.
Tseng proposes a category of "Type AB" prepositions, which intuitively seem to fall somewhere in between the prototypically lexical and prototypically functional prepositions. (He argues for a two-dimensional continuum of preposition selection.) Type AB is defined as covering cases where some (perhaps abstract/metaphorical) semantic contribution of the preposition can be identified, but the preposition is nevertheless collocated with/selected by the governor. Of the 7 Type AB examples on p. 19, only rely on would qualify as integral under our criterion (Researchers rely on secondary sources; *_Why do researchers rely?). We agree that the on in rely on can be understood as having a metaphorical basis, but feel the same can be said about many of Tseng's Type B examples, such as prevent from and pick on. Our integral test avoids making explicit qualitative judgments about the preposition's meaningfulness.
What does it mean to be "integral"?
There are a few reasons that a preposition may be required to go with the verb such that we classify it as "integral":
- Without the preposition, the verb would be interpreted in a different sense. This is the case for a majority of verbs in our list, including frequent/basic verbs like come, keep, know, think, and turn. Also get away, which has a literal reading but is forced into a metaphorical reading by with.
- The verb syntactically requires the preposition (or some other preposition): intransitive consist, refer (except for in linguistics jargon!).
- The preposition forces a different order of arguments. Tseng (p. 28) gives the example of result in, which we would include as integral because An error might result in hackers accessing the system conveys that "the error" is the cause, while When might an error result? suggests it is the effect (result from something).
Apparent weaknesses of our test
- There are some combinations where the verb optionally selects for a particular preposition. The preposition does not modify the meaning, but there may be a register or dialect difference:
- plan on: I plan on eating late. (casual) ↔ I plan to eat late.
- come in 'place, in a contest': My horse came (in) first in the race.
- settle for: I'll never settle (for anything less than I deserve). (Colloquial to omit the PP.)
- deal with: Sometimes you just have to deal (= make do with an unpleasant situation). We consider this a marginal slang usage, and keep deal with in the integral category.
Though we treat the prepositions in plan on, come in, and settle for as nonintegral, they are presumably collocated (see next section).
- The circumstance test is problematic for stative verbs. E.g.:
- This product made for indoor use does not necessarily refer to a creation event; it can be construed as saying the product is intended for indoor use. Why/How was the product made? seems to alter the meaning of the verb.
- This software is running on Windows is not about an the gradual execution of the software so much as it is saying that the software uses Windows as a platform. How is the software running? obscures this.
Collocation criterion: If this verb has a particular core role filled with an overt argument, it must be marked with a particular preposition. ('look for', 'look at')" (TODO: I think this is probably too vague. But it would be nice to have some criterion for what is collocated.)
Co-participant with alternations
Interestingly, there are some idiomatic combinations that license either of the patterns:
- NP1 V [with NP2]
- NP1 and NP2 [V together]
We are aware of:
go with/go together 'be compatible': Does the tie go with the jacket? ↔ Do the tie and jacket go together?
- Because of this alternation, we conclude that there is a sense of go that means 'match'. (WordNet agrees.)
work with/work together 'be in a working relationship with' sometimes are in alternation: I'm working with a new client on this project. ↔ A new client and I are working together on this project.
- However: I work with a faculty advisor ↮ A faculty advisor and I work together
Idiomatic come with 'be sold/provided including'—Does this meal come with a salad?—does not seem to license a together paraphrase; there is a semantic asymmetry between the two entities that prevents this.
Some verbs involving two agents allow a collective subject vs. agent and with co-agent alternation: I met with Joe to discuss the project ↔ Joe and I met to discuss the project. Adding together would be weird as meet ('engage in a meeting') already requires two agents.