I'm at a loss as to how https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/44935/grammar-of-over-in-the-accident-was-already-over-when-we-arrived could be deemed unworthy of further consideration. Could anyone please explain what I'm missing?

The statement This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information. can arguably never be true, as English is a language that develops over time.

In many non-trivial cases, one may find incompatible 'definitive' answers by carefully selecting or just happening upon different 'standard internet reference sources designed specifically to provide that type of information'.

In the case of this sense of over, for instance, at thefreedictionary.com, the two (usually excellent) dictionaries give contradictory analyses:


14. At an end: Summer is over.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009.


adj (postpositive) finished; no longer in progress: is the concert over yet?

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

So, do we toss a coin? Stick with the first reasonably authoritative-looking source we happen upon? Look for a ranking order of possible sources? Look for a ranking order of ranking orders?

(With regard to the original question, Collins probably has the correct analysis here: the structure must be regarded as copular; over cannot modify be. However, as with former in say a former President, we have here a situation where the 'adjective' doesn't really truly modify the noun it is apparently associated with. A former President is not a President who is former, and if Summer is over, we are not left with an over Summer. The words 'former' and 'over' refer to former states / the end of those states. At the moment, words that perform this sort of role are loosely classed as 'peripheral adjectives', or perhaps better as 'non-semantically-predicative adjectives' (see Elizabeth Coppock at Google Books).

Oh, and the above link is to the best article on the subject that I've found in 10 years - but perhaps that's common knowledge?

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    Oh my. What a mess. There is one (interesting) question in here, and you let it drown in an ocean of pointless peeving. A pity!
    – RegDwigнt Mod
    Jun 27 '12 at 23:36
  • Since (apart from my comments on heavy-handed sanctioning, and recognition of sound authorities) I've really only restated Nicholas's question, and offered what I consider to be a valuable account of related and far-from-simple research - which goes far beyond answers given on the previous thread - why was Nicholas's interesting question sidelined? Jun 27 '12 at 23:48
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    I'm somewhat confused--are you objecting to the closing of the previous question? If so, I can move this to meta for further discussion; if not, could you clarify your question?
    – waiwai933
    Jun 28 '12 at 0:17
  • I'm disturbed by the decision that may be taken by a body on the site to mis-apply a rule ('This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information') - the fact that the two respected dictionaries I quote differ in their pronouncements shows that this is hardly the case here - to curtail debate. I also think that this is a fertile area for interesting debate; if, as John Lawler answers, word-classes are so nebulous, we should be wary of being too prescriptive. Jun 28 '12 at 0:26
  • Thank you. John Lawler has given an answer to the syntactical analysis problem encountered here that goes (or at least points) even deeper than the refined classification by Coppock (see above). It does call into question a lot of accepted theory. I think that he is saying that the concept of word classes, for idiomatic usages at least, is possibly best discarded? That'll keep me occupied for another 10 years! Jun 28 '12 at 0:46
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    So the purpose of migrating here is to discuss the theory? Again, I'm afraid something has changed in a sociopolitical spectrum where I'm unfortunately colorblind. I'm here to talk about language and English, personally. For starts, why did you say I called into question "accepted theory"? "Accepted" by whom? Jun 28 '12 at 13:23
  • Please don't ask me about in-house policies - though I think the re-formatting is good! To name-drop, at lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/ZAA_final_proof.pdf G Pullum argues for a reclassification of grammatical categories rather than abandonment: It is time to revise the conception of grammatical categories that is currently built into all dictionaries of English. The traditional categorizations given in the dictionaries for numerous items are simply in error.... I must say that I believe that some of his recommendations are themselves unsatisfactory - eg intransitive prepositions. Jun 28 '12 at 22:41
  • Then if grammatical concepts should be dropped, the question is now NARQ
    – simchona
    Jun 29 '12 at 2:45
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    "Intransitive prepositions" is what Geoff would in fact call these. If you don't find it helpful, I don't know what else could possibly be the "accepted theory". Where could the accepted grammatical theory possibly be, except in the biggest, most complete, most authoritative grammar of the English language? Jun 29 '12 at 4:03
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    Not that you need to buy everything on offer. But Geoff gives reasons for all his choices. And one needs to specify what the categories are for -- NLP/CL taggers often use hundreds of "Parts of Speech" because such specificity helps certain kinds of parsers. Whereas in logical structure all you need are Predicates, Arguments, Functors, and Operators, which are logical prototypes for Verbs, Nouns, Conjunctions, and Operators (Negatives, Modals, and Quantifiers). All languages have things that work like these. But adjectives and prepositions are variable. Jun 29 '12 at 4:09
  • Links: Logic study guide, and Verb Phrase study guide Jun 29 '12 at 4:11
  • English is used by many non-academics who still wish to communicate unambiguously, concisely and elegantly. There are so many different structures in accepted use that some way of understanding and grouping structures that is accessible to the layman and the schoolchild is desirable. Explaining things like why we can say he went home but not he went school; he went straight there but not he went straight yonder (doesn't that negate Radford's 'straight-test'?) are problems encountered way below doctorate level. Jun 29 '12 at 18:42
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    The study guides are at about the smart 6th grade level, I think. Adults may have problems if they learned too much zombie grammar in school, but kids like to have things laid out clearly, especially if they're interested in them. Jun 30 '12 at 16:29

There can be no "definitive and permanent answer" to a question like this.

First, there is no definitive list of English word classes. Everybody uses their own.

Second, language changes constantly, so permanent solutions are out of the question.

Third, knowing the official "word class" of a word tells you precisely nothing about its use.

Fourth, the word over, like most English words, belongs to many word classes.

Fifth, the word over in Summer is over is a metaphorical use of a locative term. Metaphors are a matter of individual usage and interpretation, also inimical to a definitive and permanent answer.

There's a literature on this; you should probably start with Claudia Brugman's The Story of Over.

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    Thank you, John. Very sane. Jun 28 '12 at 0:16
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    If there can be no definitive and permanent answer, how can the question be closed with that as a reason?
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jun 28 '12 at 14:48
  • Questions that can't be answered are out of our purview. Figure out what your categories are, and what tests to use to determine them, and then apply the tests. If you want suggestions, McCawley 1999 is probably the place to start. Jun 28 '12 at 16:56
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    My comment was rather that the question was closed with the statement that there was a definitive and permanent answer in "a single link to a standard internet reference", when you have proved there isn't one. Should the question have been closed with another reason? It's meta questions like this which help both questioners and those with close-vote privileges to understand what's going on.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jun 30 '12 at 16:14
  • I have no opinion on closing questions. As I said, I'm here to discuss the language and the grammar; political discussions remind me too much of faculty meetings, and I'm retired now, thank gods. Jun 30 '12 at 16:27
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    Questions that are not answerable as posed are off topic, yes, but questions that are answerable but don't happen to have a single simple answer certainly are not off topic. A good answer to such a question might describe both sides of a controversy.
    – MetaEd
    Jul 4 '12 at 22:33

I don't think this question should have closed either. There are two possibilities

  • "to be over" is a phrasal verb.
  • "over" is an adjective that can only occur in predicate position.

I suspect that different English speakers analyze this differently, because some people say "the concert seems over", while others (e.g., me) would say that this wasn't quite grammatical, and that you have to say "the concert seems to be over".

If "to be over" is a phrasal verb, then many dictionaries would call "over" an adverb (I would say that it's a particle, but many dictionaries don't use this as one of the parts of speech).

I don't think this question should have been closed. The 'general references' disagree, and calling 'over' an adverb here is really quite unhelpful. Also, just because there's no definite answer doesn't mean the question should have been closed; what I said above (with some data to back up the claims) would have been a perfectly good answer.

However, since the OP didn't explain that the references disagreed, it's quite understandable that the question was closed. From the FAQ:

Of course, if your question isn't adequately answered by these resources, feel free to ask here on English Language and Usage Stack Exchange. Be sure to mention the research you've done and what you're still hoping to learn!

Insufficient research was given in the original question, which led to its closing

  • I don't think _ be over_ is a phrasal verb. Or if it is, so are be up, be sleepy, be there, and be well. It's just a predicate that happens to function in other constructions like a preposition or adverb, just like there functions in other constructions as a noun or adverb, or well as an adjective or adverb. Phrasal verbs sensu stricto have special syntactic tests to distinguish them. Jun 28 '12 at 16:35
  • And even the physical, prepositional, sense of over is pretty particular and not at all straightforward. Consider what over means in these two sentences: The big cloud is over that hill vs The big farm is over that hill. The cloud is directly above (same Latin root as over, natch) the hill, while the farm is on the other side of the hill, on the ground (and therefore literally under the hill). Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream. Jun 28 '12 at 16:42
  • I'd say be up, meaning "out of bed", falls in the same category as be over, whatever category that is. Jun 28 '12 at 16:45
  • Which tests are you using? Jun 28 '12 at 16:55
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    I'm asking whether up can be used with the same meaning for any other verbs that take complements: For "he's up", you can't say "he seems up", "he looks up", "he appears up". You have to say "he seems to be up," etc. This means up with this meaning only goes with the verb to be. I would say that means "to be up" is a phrasal verb. This is less clear for "over", as I've found people on the web saying "it seems over" and "it looks over", although those don't sound right to me. Jun 29 '12 at 3:29
  • You can definitely say "he seems sleepy", "he looks well", so those are adjectives. And "there" is an adverb, because it can modify other verbs and have the same meaning. But "up", meaning "out of bed", only works with "to be" and "to get". Jun 29 '12 at 3:37
  • So, obligatory To be-Deletion with A-Raising of seem and look is a test for phrasal verbs? Only intransitives? Or are there any transitive ones that do Particle Shift? Jun 29 '12 at 3:58
  • Returning to the analysis of It is over, there is a distinct similarity to It is finished, where, I think we would agree, finished should be considered a participial adjective. I've no direct support for this, but I think that such words carry characteristics of both adjectives and verbs. In 'The Summer was over', over is not fulfilling a typical adjectival role, as for instance is wet in "The Summer was wet". Neither does it fulfil a prototypical verbal role as say lasting in "The Summer was lasting too long". Jun 29 '12 at 19:01

It's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

If the question is simply, "Why was this closed"... I think it's obvious from the comments. onomatomaniak linked to the dictionary definition, a standard reference source providing an apparently definitive answer. Three others saw that and agreed, and thus the question was closed.

If the question is, "Should we reopen it"... I think you've proved that there's enough of a gray area that the question should be given another look. But you could have done so more directly by posting to meta in the first place, or simply voting to reopen (if rep permits).

If the question is "Should we re-word the 'general reference' closure text because English is not so cut and dried".... We could debate the exact wording of the message, but the intent is clear. EL&U gets a lot of really basic questions where the meaning is obvious and the person clearly didn't spend any effort to look it up themselves. That's what 'general reference' is for.

The nature of democratic closure means that mistakes sometimes happen, but that's why you can reopen them.


can arguably never be true, as English is a language that develops over time.

An online dictionary page that defines a word doesn't necessarily give always the same definition; if the word is used in a different way, the online dictionary will be updated.

As far as the link can be defined as "link to a standard Internet reference source," the link is fine. For example, I would not call the link to a blog page I sometimes update a link to a standard Internet reference source.

  • But the closure reason doesn't give a link. Perhaps it should.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jun 28 '12 at 14:48
  • The closure reason already gives the link to the FAQ. It cannot provide a link to the standard Internet reference source.
    – apaderno
    Jun 28 '12 at 14:55
  • I'd say any standard Internet reference source, myself. Because there aren't any that answer that question properly. The point is that it's the wrong question in the first place --i.e, it contains false presuppositions -- and the choice is to ignore it or to answer the question that should have been asked, correcting the presuppositions. As a teacher, I tend to do the latter. Jun 28 '12 at 20:20
  • @JohnLawler I meant that when selecting "general reference" as closing reason, you are not prompted for a reference source URL; that is the reason why the closing reason doesn't show a URL. The "general reference" closing reason has been implemented for those dictionary-type questions; it generally means "there is nothing that is worth adding to what a dictionary says."
    – apaderno
    Jun 29 '12 at 14:38

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