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TIP #59 - This tip was sent on the week: 25th Sept - 1st Oct, 2005

This tip applies to the following programs:

  • ESI Professional

How to Add A New Word to the Dictionaries - Part X - Intransitive Verbal Phrases


Keeping to the special grammar implemented in ESI’s translation engine, intransitive phrasal verbs must also have this attribute clearly specified when you add entries of this type to the dictionary.


How do you determine when a phrasal verb is intransitive?


For a single verb, the rule is very simple: if it cannot take a direct object immediately after the verb, then it is intransitive. An example of such a verb is “to fall”. You cannot fall “something”. You can drop a thing, and the thing falls. But you do not “fall” the thing. Therefore, “fall” is classified as intransitive.


But, what about a phrasal verb where the “thing” is already included in the phrase? Is it transitive or intransitive? For instance, “have something to eat = comer algo”

Voy a comer algo = I’m going to have something to eat

This might be confusing at the beginning because the verb “comer (eat)” is a transitive verb. Many people ask us, “Since to eat is a transitive verb, why shouldn’t a phrasal verb which starts with it be transitive too?”


The answer is quite simple: from the computer’s standpoint, your entry is not just “to eat”. Your entry is the complete phrase “to eat + something”. Therefore, ESI sees your entry not as the single root verb, but as a phrase with the direct object included; working as a whole or unit, it cannot take a direct object because it already has one. Therefore the entry has to be classified as intransitive.


This can be seen perhaps more clearly with a few examples:

  • [ fall ] is intransitive because you cannot say “fall + something”
  • [ eat something ] is intransitive because you cannot say “eat something + something”
  • [ take a chance ] is intransitive because you cannot say “take a chance + something”
  • [ give a hand to ] is transitive because you can add a direct object to the phrase, such as “give a hand to + somebody”
  • [ have a good time ] is intransitive because you cannot say “have + somebody + a good time”.
  • [ talk nonsense to ] is transitive because you can say “talk nonsense to + somebody”
  • [ sing a song ] is BOTH transitive and intransitive because ESI can translate “sing a song” or “sing them a song” using the same Spanish entry.

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