How do I say go in, come down, go ahead etc?:
Translating phrasal verbs into French

English makes wide use of phrasal verbs, in which a preposition or adverb is 'fused' to a verb1. In some cases, they consist of a verb which indicates a manner of movement plus a preposition that indicates direction (cf fly out, saunter in). In other cases, it is more difficult to separate the verb and preposition into distinct components of meaning (cf mess up, get round to, go in for). The first step in translating phrasal verbs is to determine which type we are dealing with. Note that some phrasal verbs can be of both types: go ahead can mean both 'move forwards' in a literal sense plus 'continue' in a more abstract sense.

Verb indicating manner plus preposition indicating direction

In these cases, English encodes manner in the verb and direction in the preposition:

he walked
ran
flew
manner
out
in
past
direction

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For many common cases, French encodes the manner and direction the other way round to English: direction is encoded in the verb and manner is encoded in another expression. So to translate these phrasal verbs into French, we need to:

  • find an appropriate verb to translate direction;
  • find an appropriate expression to translate manner (and decide if this is necessary).

On the next page, we'll look at how to find the appropriate combination of verb and expression to translate phrasal verbs.


1. Alternative terms include verb plus particle construction (cf Radford, 1997, Syntactic theory and the structure of English).

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.