The preposition "into"

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In the phrase "long walk into obscurity" (or similar), is "into" regarded as a preposition? I have heard it described as a phrasal verb in this instance.

Prepositions into asked Dec 18 '12 at 14:06 scjessey New member

1 answer


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It's a preposition, I am quite sure.  Into as a preposition shows movement from one place to another place, and the idea of movement (from non-obscurity/fame into obscurity) makes sense, especially if you expand this phrase into a full sentence, such as After Mitt Romney lost the election, he took a long walk into obscurity.

 

Distinguishing between prepositions and phrasal verb particles is tricky, especially because you will find, or maybe have already found, conflicting advice and rules in different grammar books (or from teachers), and there is unfortunately a wide variety of grammatical terms that different books and teachers use.  Many grammar books and teachers distinguish between a phrasal verb particle (verb + particle) and a verb + preposition, but others don't (when they teach/talk about phrasal verbs, they use the term verb + preposition).  I think the latter is too confusing, so I teach the former. 

 

It is a complicated topic, and you will find all kinds of different opinions about this, but a general rule of thumb I use is, if you can clearly understand or visualize the physical positioning or movement of the word that follows the verb, then it is a preposition; if you can't, then it is a phrasal verb, in which case the preposition has transformed linguistically from a literal meaning to a figurative/metaphorical meaning.  But this is a difficult distinction to make.

 

I have been racking my brains to come up with a good, clear example of the difference between walk into as a verb + preposition and a phrasal verb, but here goes:

 

She walked into the room and saw her husband kissing another woman.

 

Here it is definitely verb + preposition: you can understand/visualize the woman moving from outside the room to inside the room.

 

He was so drunk that he walked into a wall!

 

Here it is impossible for the man to walk into the wall, no matter how drunk he was.  So it can best be understood as a phrasal verb, verb + particle.  It is a figurative/metaphorical expression.

 

Getting back to your original example sentence, a long walk into obscurity, I can understand the movement from one place (fame, or non-obscurity) into another place (the absence of fame, or obscurity) and so into is a preposition.  This, despite the fact that, for example, Mitt Romney hasn't actually physically moved from one physical place to another - it is more a matter of reputation.  But still, I can clearly visualize the long walk from one place, almost becoming President, to another place: no one is talking about or interested in him anymore.

 

But it is not a black and white issue, and others may disagree.  Thank you for such an absorbing question. I hope this helps!

 

Shawn

link comment edited Dec 18 '12 at 16:38 Shawn Mooney Expert

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