mull or mull over

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danielxu85

Senior Member
Mandarin Chinese
I think "mull sth over" means to ponder over sth. I think it should be used as an intransitive verb, but in the following sentence, it has been used as a transitive. Is it correct? Are these two phrases different?

But within a year he hit the "wall" familiar to athletes in training and suddenly found that he was no longer mulling his future, but wondering why he should think about his future at all.
 
  • coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    I think "mull sth over" means to ponder over sth. I think it should be used as an intransitive verb, but in the following sentence, it has been used as a transitive. Is it correct? Are these two phrases different?

    But within a year he hit the "wall" familiar to athletes in training and suddenly found that he was no longer mulling his future, but wondering why he should think about his future at all.
    Daniel,

    They're both transitive (here), and they're both semantically equal (ponder, cogitate), but syntactically they're a little different.

    "Mull over" is what is called a "phrasal verb" -- a verb followed by a particle (preposition, adverb, or some combination of those). Other examples:

    I got up at 6 a.m.
    He put off the meeting.
    I will look into that.

    Phrasal verbs work differently from standard verb-plus-prepositions. One way to test which it is, is by fronting the preposition and seeing if the sentence makes sense:

    Philip made up the incident.
    Up what did Philip make?

    This is laughable gibberish (should be "What did Philip make up?"), so we know that make up, here, is a phrasal verb.

    By contrast:

    Sara looked at the picture.
    At what did Sara look?

    This may sound a little stilted, but it's acceptable and we know therefore that look at is verb-plus-preposition, not a phrasal verb.

    So with mull over:

    Over what was he mulling?

    No, that isn't right (although it's almost right, because mull is also a standalone verb in its own right). Correct would be:

    "What was he mulling over?"

    --showing that it's a phrasal verb. You could also say: "What was he mulling?" using mull as a standalone.

    The last example is slightly ambiguous (because of the two forms of mull and mull over), but there is another test that can be applied. That is to front the preposition in a relative clause. This works in a verb-plus-preposition sentence but not with a phrasal verb:

    *The future over which he was mulling was uncertain. (not good)
    The future which he was mulling over was uncertain.

    The second sentence shows that mull over is in fact a phrasal verb.

    Hope this helps.
     

    danielxu85

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    Thanks, coiffe! Your explanation is as great as always! I didn't realize that phrasal verb is different form verb-plus-preposition!
     

    Ume

    Banned
    Japanese
    coiffe wrote:
    *The future over which he was mulling was uncertain. (not good)
    The future which he was mulling over was uncertain.
    Can over be left out?
     

    Ume

    Banned
    Japanese
    coiffe wrote:
    "What was he mulling over?"
    --showing that it's a phrasal verb. You could also say: "What was he mulling?" using mull as a standalone.

    over can be left out, can't it?
    So I wonder why over cannot be omitted.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    We can each only speak for ourselves. I agree with Ann O"Rack. I don't think it can be dropped. "Mulled" has a meaning of its own when not accompanied by "over". We can mull wine by adding fruit and spices. As Ann O'Rack said, he mulled his options sounds like he performed that action on his options, and that sounds pretty silly to me.

    It is as different to my ear as "He pulled the car over" and "he pulled the car". I picture two completely different actions.
     
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