Volume 13, No. 1 
January 2009

  Dr. Ali Yunis Aldahesh


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English Phrasal Verbs in Bilingual English-Arabic Dictionaries
by Dr. Ali Yunis Aldahesh
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Nuts & Bolts

English Phrasal Verbs in Bilingual English-Arabic Dictionaries

by Dr. Ali Yunis Aldahesh
The Australian National University


This paper concerns itself with the issue of how English Phrasal Verbs (henceforth EPVs) (to give up, to step into, to put up with) have been dealt with in bilingual English-Arabic dictionaries. It investigates the ways in which English-Arabic dictionaries have tackled the question of EPVs. The principal aim here is to figure out the extent to which such dictionaries have succeeded in covering, explaining, and providing Arabic functional-pragmatic equivalents to such challenging items of the English language. The paper is of two distinct parts; the first part looks at EPVs in general English-Arabic dictionaries, and the second part examines the treatment of EPVs in specialized English-Arabic dictionaries.

1. Introduction

t goes without saying that EPVs constitute one of the major difficulties learners of the English language as well as translators and interpreters encounter when rendering this type of idiomatic expressions into their own languages. This is due to the syntactic and semantic complexity of such problematic phrases (cf. Turton & Manser, 1985; McArthur & Atkins, 1974; Cowie & Mackin, 1993).

English phrasal verbs constitute one of the major difficulties when rendering this type of idiomatic expressions into other languages.
Although defining the phenomenon of EPVs is still controversial among researchers in such domains as grammar, linguistics, pedagogy, and lexicography, scholars have come up with rather comprehensive definitions of this phenomenon (cf. Live, 1965; McArthur, 1971, 1975 & 1989; Fraser, 1976; Lindner, 1983; Quirk et al., 1985; Turton & Manser, 1985; Dixon, 1982 & 1991; Azzaro, 1992; Shovel, 1992; Close, 1992; Cowie & Mackin, 1993; Crowley, Lynch, Siegel & Piau, 1995; Lindstormberg, 1998; Stern, 2000; Sinclair et al., 1998: Thrush, 2001 among others).

Bolinger (1971) maintains that "I do not believe that a linguistic entity such as the phrasal verb can be confined within clear bounds [...] being or not being a phrasal verb is a matter of degree" (p. 6).

By studying the essence of several definitions proposed by scholars in such disciplines as grammar, linguistics, lexicography and pedagogy, EPVs can be generally defined as "a combination of two or three items (a verb + a preposition, a verb + an adverb, or a verb + an adverb + a preposition) which functions as a single unit of meaning in the sense that its meaning cannot be deduced from the total sum of the meanings of its separate elements" (Aldahesh, 2007, p. 1). Some examples are include:

to bring up, to bring down, to carry out, to carry on, to turn up ,to turn on, to turn off, to come across, to come over, to come out, to slow down, to speed up, to through out, to through up, to help out, to knock off, to knock down, to sort out, to give up, to give in, to give away, to get away with, to black out, to tip off, to account for, to point out, to water down, to take off, to take in, to put up with, etc.

It is quite essential here to briefly cast some light on the syntactic and semantic properties of EPVs. They are typically of three types, namely:

1. Verb + adverb combination. (E.g.: I've let you down)
2. Verb + preposition combination. (E.g.: The prize puts him over the moon)
3. Verb + adverb + preposition combination. (E.g.: He cannot get away with this)

In addition, EPVs are of two types according to whether or not they require a direct object, they are: transitive EPVs and intransitive EPVs. Transitive EPVs consist of a verb plus a particle (adverb and/or preposition) plus a direct object. They require a direct object to complete their meaning. This type of EPVs exemplified by Quirk et al. (1985) as follows:

We still set up a new unit.
Shall I put away the dishes?
She's bringing up two children.
Someone turned on the light.
They have called off the strike (p. 1153) [Emphasis in original]

Intransitive EPVs, on the other hand, consist of a verb plus a particle (adverb and/or preposition). They do not require any object. Quirk et al. (1985) cite the following illustrative examples:

The plane has just touched upon.
The plane has now taken off.
The prisoner finally broke down.
She turned up unexpectedly.
When will they give in?
The tank blew up (p. 1152) [Emphasis in original].

In short, EPVs, like other ordinary verbs, can be either transitive or intransitive (McArthur, 1975). There are some EPVs, however, that can be used both as transitive and intransitive verbs (Sinclair et al. 1998; Jespersen, 1976). Such EPVs have been illustrated by Quirk and Greenbaum (1973) as follows:

Drink up quickly. [Intransitive PV]
Drink up your milk. [Transitive PV]
When will they give in? [Intransitive PV]
They gave in their resignation. [Transitive PV]
(pp. 347-348) [Emphasis in original. My bracketing].

Having said that, it is necessary to indicate that transitive EPVs fall into two major types: separable and non-separable EPVs, or split alteration and non-split alteration as they were termed by Sawyer (1999), or fused and separable as were named by McArthur and Atkins (1974). Such a distinction typically depends upon the position of the particle in the sentence (Bolinger, 1971; Quirk & Greenbaum, 1973; Fraser, 1976; Jacobs, 1995; Gries, 2002). Particles may "occur on either side of the direct object noun phrase as one of its defining characteristics" (Fraser, 1976, p. 16). Therefore, in separable EPVs the particle follows the object noun as in: Can you turn the light off? Whereas, in non-separable EPVs the particle precedes the object noun as in: I gave up smoking two years a go.

Furthermore, forming EPVs from other word classes is a common phenomenon in the English language. This is mainly due to the productive nature of these kinds of verbs which can be emerged at any time, in any situation and within any context throughout the English language. EPVs are derived from three sources, namely adjectives, nouns and Latinate verbs (McArthur, 1989, pp. 40-41).

EPVs can be formed from the three types of adjectives: a) Adjectives which can take the suffix -en as in: "fresh, freshen, freshen up and flat, flatten, flatten down" (McArthur, 1989, p. 40) [Emphasis in original]; b) Adjectives which cannot take the suffix -en as in: "calm, calm down and warm, warm up" (McArthur, 1989, pp. 40-41) [Emphasis in original], and c) Adjectives which can be both (with and without the suffix -en) as in: "damp, dampen, dampen down and damp, damp down" (McArthur, 1989, p. 41) [Emphasis in original].

EPVs can be formed from nouns, for example: "button up, dish out, fog up, iron out, and sponge down" (McArthur, 1989, p. 41) [Emphasis in original].

EPVs can be formed from Latinate verbs of two and three syllables when they are attached to particles for emphasis or completion to form EPVs. McArthur (1989) cites the following examples: "contract out, divide off/up, level off, measure off/out, select out, [and] separate off/out" (p. 41) [Emphasis in original].

Nouns are typically formed from EPVs. Such derived nouns "are becoming increasingly common in modern English, in conversation, in newspapers and in technical usage" (McArthur, 1975, p. 48). These new forms have been labeled by Fraser (1976) as "Verb-Particle Nominalizations", and given the following example: Where were you during the cave-in (p. 27) [Emphasis in original].

Moving on to semantic properties of EPVs, due to the fact that their meanings range from literal to idiomatic (Gries, 2002), and their semantic types, as Chen (1986) puts it, "vary from the most literal to the most idiomatic" (p. 82), they can be semantically classified as follows: 1) Non-idiomatic/literal EPVs, where both components of the construction retain their individual lexical meanings, for example: Bring the box in, 2) Semi-idiomatic EPVs, where one component of the construction retains its lexical meaning while the other one is less transparent, for example: Drink your milk up, 3) Idiomatic EPVs, where both components of the construction are not transparent, and the whole meaning of the idiomatic EPV cannot be gained from the total sum of the lexical meanings of its individual parts, for example: The market is closed due to the black out, He will never give up, and The war broke out suddenly (cf. Quirk et al., 1985; Cowie, 1993; Heliel, 1994; Lindstormberg, 1998; Darwin & Gray, 1999).

Register-wise, although EPVs are commonly used informally in everyday spoken English (McArthur, 1975; Kennedy, 1967; Cornell, 1985; Sinclair et al., 1998; Turton & Manser, 1985; McArthur, 1989; Villavicencio & Copestake, 2003), they are quite often used formally in a variety of English written texts (Cowie & Mackin, 1993; Swierzbin, 1996). English speaking children, as McArthur (1975, p. 6) asserts, "learn them [EPVs] before they learn other kinds of verbs: Get up! Go away! Drink up your milk! Put your toys away darling! Shut up!" [Emphasis in original].

Yet, Turton and Manser (1985, p. viii) advise non-native speakers of English to treat EPVs with caution since many of them "could cause offence if used inappropriately". Furthermore, Cowie and Mackin (1993) make the point that EPVs need to be cautiously used not only in their correct grammatical patterns but also in their appropriate contexts (p. xi).

Most of the English lexicographers, who compiled monolingual English-English dictionaries of EPVs, have included the register variations of them along with other syntactic and semantics properties (cf. Cambridge international Dictionary of Phrasal verbs (1997); Oxford Dictionary of phrasal verbs (1993); Oxford Phrasal verbs Dictionary for Learners of English (2001); Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs (1983) among others).

2. EPVs in general English-Arabic dictionaries

It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine all the published bilingual English-Arabic dictionaries since such an endeavor requires a volume on its own. Therefore, three main authoritative general English-Arabic dictionaries will be looked at here. They are: Al-Mawrid, Al-Mughni Al-Akbar, and The Oxford English-Arabic Dictionary of Current Usage.

2.1 Al-Mawrid

This well-known and widely used general dictionary was compiled by Munir Ba'albaki, and first published in 1967 by Dar El Ilm Lilmalayin.

A close look at the way this book treats the phenomenon of EPVs reveals some crucial insights. Initially, EPVs are not specified in separate entries in this dictionary. They are rather casually mentioned under their root verbs. The EPV to iron out, for instance, is taken up under its root verb iron (p. 481), and to use up under its basic verb use (p. 1019).

Nouns and adjectives derived from EPVs, however, are accorded separate entries. Good examples include the adjective cast-off (p. 158) and the noun close-up (p. 186).

It is worth mentioning that Al-Mawrid is by no means comprehensive in terms of covering EPVs. A thorough investigation shows that the vast majority of EPVs have been utterly ignored. To mention just a few instances: bitch up, bring along, bring together, brighten up, bump up, cast aside, chill out, do without, egg on, factor in, pig out, and pop up, among others.

Moreover, a number of the listed EPVs are highly polysemous (i.e., they have more than one meaning). Such EPVs are not given Arabic equivalents for all their meanings. Most of them, though, are glossed by one or two meanings only. For example, the EPV balled up is glossed only as مشوّش (confused) (p. 85) whereas it has some other meanings as: "to change things so that something is difficult to deal with" (Cambridge International Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, 1997, p. 7), "to make a ball of (a substance) [...] to spoil (something)" (Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, 1983, p. 15). The PV fly at is glossed as يهاجم بعنف (to attack violently) (p. 358), while it has another two meanings which are: "to (cause to) travel by air (a certain height, cost, etc.)" (Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, 1983, p. 199), "to suddenly speak to someone very angrily" (Cambridge International Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, 1997, p. 103).

2.2 Al-Mughni Al-Akbar

This general dictionary was compiled by Hasan S. Karmi, and first published in 1997 by Librairie Du Liban.

In the preface of this dictionary, Karmi points out that idiomatic usages of the headwords, if they have any, are listed in the subentries of those headwords. EPVs, he elaborates "are also listed after the main verb headword, together with the idiomatic usages" (p. xi). Therefore, we find the EPV to use up under the verb use (p. 1563), and under the verb run we find the EPVs to run about, to run across, to run against, to run away, to run down, to run into, to run on, to run out, to run over to run through, etc. (pp. 1185-1186).

On the other hand, adjectives and nouns derived from EPVs are given main and separate entries such as the adjective worn-out (p. 1657), and the noun work-out (p. 1655).

As far as coverage is concerned, Al-Mughni Al-Akbar has taken up the question of EPVs in more detail than Al-Mawrid in terms of the number of the listed EPVs and the examples provided to illustrate them in contexts. Yet it is far from being comprehensive in comparison with the monolingual English-English dictionaries of PVs,. Examples of EPVs which have been skipped include: zoom in, zoom out, win away, mock up, rock up, tough out, print out and chew out among others.

2.3 The Oxford English-Arabic Dictionary of Current Usage

This dictionary was compiled by N. S. Doniach, and first published in 1972 by Oxford University Press.

This dictionary has been described by Holes (1994) as "[...] the most commonly used work" (p. 163). However, like in the previously mentioned two dictionaries, EPVs are not accorded separate entries in it. Instead, they are listed beneath their root verbs. The EPV bring up, for instance, is listed under its root verb bring (p. 157), and the EPVs look away, look back, look for, look over, and look through are listed under their basic verb look (pp. 719-720).

On the other hand, nouns and adjectives derived from EPVs are specified in separate entries such as the noun pull-out (p. 1004), and the adjective lock-up (p. 715).

This general dictionary, like the others, is by no means comprehensive in its coverage of EPVs. Thus, many of them are skipped, such as: bid up, dine in, juice up, pig out, and scan in among others.

3. EPVs in specialized English-Arabic dictionaries

It is very noticeable that the quality and quantity of bilingual English-Arabic dictionaries dedicated to EPVs are much lower than their counterparts of English-English dictionaries of PVs. There are, to the best of my knowledge and research, only two bilingual English-Arabic dictionaries of PVs. In this paper they will be commented on in the chronological order of their publication. The aim here is to explore the ways by which the compilers of these specialized dictionaries have tackled the phenomenon of EPVs. In so doing, one can pinpoint the gaps that need to be breached.

3.1 English Phrasal Verbs in Arabic

This specialized dictionary was compiled by Kamal Khalaili, and published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1979. It seems to be the first one of its kind, i.e. it is the first bilingual English-Arabic dictionary which is entirely devoted to deal with the question of EPVs.

It must be pointed out that the book is intended for students in the Arabic-speaking world (p. 5). It aims, according to its compiler, "to illustrate the different meanings in context of a practical and representative selection of the most useful and widely used phrasal verbs—both in spoken and written English" (p. 5). Therefore, it is divided into forty-four sections, each of which is devoted to one particular basic verb. Under each one of such verbs "the numerous combinations it can make with different prepositions or particles" (p. 5) are listed. The section devoted to the basic verb catch, for instance, contains the following combinations: catch on, catch out, and catch up (p. 33).

Like monolingual English-English dictionaries of PVs, this dictionary has provided grammatical information about each listed EPV to indicate whether it is transitive or intransitive, and, in case it is transitive, whether it is separable or inseparable.

Furthermore, each EPV is "given a definition in straightforward English" (p. 5). The EPV back up, for example, is defined as "give support to" (p. 11), and wear off as "disappear; pass away" (p. 163). In addition, each definition is followed by two examples "to fix the context" (p. 5). For instance, the EPV hold with (to approve of; to agree with) is given the following two examples: "We don't hold with Communism and all that it stands for. Do you hold with smoking in cinemas?" (p. 80).

Moreover, each listed EPV is "translated into the appropriate Arabic equivalent" (p. 5). For example, the Arabic equivalents عاملَ، تقدّمَ، فهمَ are given to the EPVs: do by (p. 45), get along (with) (p. 54), and make out (p. 104) respectively.

In addition, the polysemic EPVs have been accounted for. The EPV knock up, for instance, is given the following three meanings: 1) rouse; awaken صحّى ، أيقظ, 2) prepare quickly أعد بسرعة, 3) exhaust أرهق ، أنهك (p. 87). Whereas the EPV pass away is given the following two meanings: 1) die مات ، قضى نحبه, 2) disappear; vanish زال ، تلاشى (p. 107).

Another noticeable feature is the exercises provided at the end of each section and their key which is attached at the back of the dictionary. The purpose of providing such exercises, as the compiler puts it, is to "give student and teacher extra material to practise the correct and appropriate usage of these phrases" (p. 5).

No claim, however, has been made by the compiler "to be comprehensive or academically rigorous" (p. 5). Hence, the forty-four basic verbs, covered in this book, and the EPVs produced by combining them with some particles and/or prepositions are by no means exhaustive. Scores of EPVs have been disregarded by omitting their basic verbs. By skipping the verb fly, for example, such EPVs as fly across, fly away, fly off, fly out, fly over, and fly up, which are produced by combining it with some particles and/or prepositions, are omitted as a result. And by dropping the basic verb zoom, such EPVs as zoom across, zoom along, zoom in, zoom off, zoom out, zoom over, and zoom up are dropped.

As a final point, despite the fact that this dictionary has much in common with the monolingual English-English dictionaries of PVs in terms of the information provided to the listed EPVs, some crucial information has not been given. No attempt has been made, for instance, to indicate the register variations of a given EPV, and no attempt has been made to account for nouns and adjectives derived from EPVs, or the types of words that typically collocate with them, or to give such information as synonyms and antonyms of EPVs and the complex idioms and fixed expressions in which EPVs constitute integral parts.

3.2 York Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs and Their Idioms

This specialized dictionary was compiled by Mohammad M. H. Heleil, and first published by Librairie du Liban in 2000. It is an English-English-Arabic dictionary based on the monolingual English-English Dictionary of English Phrasal Verbs and their Idioms compiled by McArthur and Atkins (1974).

In his endeavor to provide Arabic equivalents to the listed EPVs, Heleil adopts the work of McArthur and Atkins (1974) entirely from A to Z. That is, the list of EPVs, their definitions, glosses, classification, examples, and the special labels used to provide grammatical information, the field, and the style are also replicated. The only change made by Heleil to the original dictionary, other than providing the Arabic equivalents, is the division of the dictionary into 26 sections according to the English alphabet.

It should be remembered that the original Dictionary of English Phrasal Verbs and their Idioms has been the source of not only Heleil, but also many other lexicographers and bilingual dictionaries compilers. McArthur and Atkins (1974) point out that "[t]he list of verbs and the classification adopted [in their dictionary] have also served as the basis for entering phrasal verbs and their translation equivalents in Collins bilingual dictionaries (English to French, German, Italian and Swahili)" (pp. 8-9).

Heleil, however, indicates, in the preface of the book, that his work is intended for Arabic translators, claiming that it is a new work of its kind in that it contains, in addition to the monolingual English-English dictionary where the EPVs are glossed in the source language, the English-Arabic part, which can help Arabic translators render the EPVs in the target language (Arabic). Heleil maintains that in so doing he creates a new method in the field of lexicography. Such a method, according to him, concentrates on: 1) providing the Arabic translator with the English text as it has been done by the compilers of the dictionary; 2) providing the Arabic translator with an Arabic text which can help him in translating the EPVs by knowing their contextual equivalents and their collocations; 3) providing the Arabic translator with a number of synonyms to convey the shades of meaning; 4) Adding vowel signs to the Arabic text to help the translator (Arabic native speaker or otherwise) read it correctly; 5) treating the EPVs which have never been tackled by bilingual Arabic-English dictionaries, or have been partially translated by giving some of their meanings and ignoring the others; 6) providing the collocations of some EPVs which their collocations are not clearly stated in the English text; 7) providing the Arabic equivalent which expresses the meaning of a given EPV, and not necessarily constitutes the same grammatical class. Such an equivalent may range between one word and an expression consisting of more than one word (The Arabic preface, not numbered) [my translation].

In translating the listed EPVs, Heleil does not translate into Arabic the information given in the English text. Hence, no attempt has been made by him to tell the Arabic readership whether a given EPV is transitive or intransitive, separable or fused (non-separable), British or American, formal or slang. He confines himself, in this regard, to providing the English text. The Arabic equivalent [الأصدقاء] زار, for instance, is given to the EPV visit with without mentioning that it is a transitive, separable American PV (p. 297).

Moreover, the majority of the illustrative examples given in the English text are not translated by Heleil. He gives only the Arabic equivalent of the EPV associated, in square brackets, with a word or some words which typically collocate with it. Most of such collocations provided by Heleil are mentioned in the English examples. The EPV wet through, for example, is illustrated in the English text by the following two examples: The rain has wet us through; He's wet through. And translated into Arabic as: بللنا تماما [المطر] where the word (rain) typically collocates with wet through (p. 305).

Heleil presents his own Arabic preface at the beginning of the book, and disregards the introduction of the original monolingual dictionary where valuable information is included such as: defining the phenomenon of EPVs, classifying them, identifying the reasons behind the difficulties posed by them, indicating their register variations, and outlining the special features of the dictionary (cf. McArthur & Atkins, 1974, pp. 5-9). Such an omission has prevented the Arabic readership from understanding some special features of the English text. A number of EPVs, for instance, are listed as 'special entries' in the English text and marked with asterisks. The compilers justify such a distinction by claiming that "a large number of phrasal forms are simply the grammatical operation of verbs of movement plus particle of direction" (pp. 6-7). Heleil, on the other hand, does not explain to the Arabic readership in his preface what the asterisks, which appear with some entries, mean.

With regard to coverage, the compilers of the original monolingual dictionary have made no claim to be exhaustive, neither in the number of the listed EPVs nor in the number of meanings given to each one of them (McArthur & Atkins, 1974). Therefore the comparison between this dictionary and other specialized monolingual English-English dictionaries has revealed that many EPVs have not been covered. As a result, Arabic translators, for whom the York Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs and Their Idioms has been compiled, will find a number of EPVs listed in other monolingual English-English dictionaries but not covered by bilingual English-Arabic dictionaries of EPVs such as the one at hand.


To sum up, the comparison between bilingual English-Arabic dictionaries of EPVs and monolingual English-English dictionaries of EPVs shows that the former are far less numerous and of lower quality in terms of the number of covered EPVs and the information given to gloss, classify, and illustrate them. In spite of the fact that the specialized bilingual English- Arabic dictionaries of EPVs, like the monolingual English-English dictionaries of EPVs, have provided grammatical information of the listed EPVs to indicate whether it is transitive, intransitive, separable or non-separable, English Phrasal Verbs in Arabic disregards fundamental information such as: the register variations of EPVs, derivation of nouns and adjectives from EPVs, types of words typically collocate with them, synonyms and antonyms of EPVs and the complex idioms and fixed expressions in which EPVs constitute integral parts. Finally, the bilingual Arabic-English dictionaries of EPVs are by no means comprehensive in their coverage. As it has been previously mentioned, there are a number of EPVs which have been skipped over, leaving the translators, interpreters and learners of English with no choice but to work them out individually and create Arabic equivalents for them, which may or may not be accurate.



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