Hi!  Could I ask you this question? 

 

Practical English Usage (fourth ediction) says that the preposition "at" following the verb "look" is often dropped before a wh-clause.

 

(1) Look (at) what you've done!

 

I was wondering whether there is any semantic difference when the preposition is present/absent.  I was also wondering whether the preposition can appear after "look" in the following sentences (taken from  Practical English Usage):

 

(2) Look who's here!

 

(3) Look where you're going.

 

I would appreciate your comments!

Original Post

Hi, Yasukotta,

I do see a slight semantic difference. With "at," the verb "look" is only physical in meaning, being equivalent to turning one's eyes in a certain direction.

Without "at," "look" can have, apart from the physical meaning, a more mental one, similar to "realize."

"Look who's here" does not mean "Look at the person who's here," but "See who's arrived." The same applies to "Look what you've done," being similar to "See what you've done."

In "Look where you're going," "look" is more like "pay attention to."

Gustavo, Contributor posted:
Without "at," "look" can have, apart from the physical meaning, a more mental one, similar to "realize."

"Look who's here" does not mean "Look at the person who's here," but "See who's arrived." The same applies to "Look what you've done," being similar to "See what you've done."

In "Look where you're going," "look" is more like "pay attention to."

I agree with Gustavo's observations here. One way to see that the version without the preposition is special is to see that it can only be used in the imperative. The following sentences are ungrammatical or highly nonstandard:

*If you look what you've done, you'll see you've made a mess.
*He looked what he did.
*She will look where she is going.

Each of those examples would be grammatical if "at" were added after "look(ed)," just as related imperative sentences ("Look what you've done," "Look where she is going") are grammatical with or without the preposition.

As Gustavo says, the preposition-less "look" construction (in the imperative) conveys special meanings, not present with the preposition. It often indicates surprise or hortatory meaning, or is purely rhetorical (e.g., "Look who's talking").

Thank you so much, Gustavo and David,  I understand!  Could I ask you to look at some more sentences?

 

(4) Take a look what you've done!

 

(5) a. Look how much money he makes!

     b. Look the amount of money he makes!

 

(6) Listen what they are saying!

 

Would you think the preposition can be dropped in light verb constructions such as "Take a look" in (4)?  Supposing (5a) is acceptable, what would you think about (5b), in which "the amount of money" is a paraphrase of "how much money"?  Would you think the verb "listen" can be used without the preposition "to" just like the preposition-less "look" construction?

One way to see that the version without the preposition is special is to see that it can only be used in the imperative.

That's a very good point, David.

Yasukotta, let me give you my view on your new sentences:

(4) Take a look what you've done!

That's wrong. You always need "at" after the noun "look": Take a look at what you've done!

(5) a. Look how much money he makes!

     b. Look the amount of money he makes!

(5)a sounds strange but seems to be grammatically correct, while (5)b is not. You need a nominal clause after "look" to be able to drop the preposition "at."

(6) Listen what they are saying!

You need "to" after "listen" even if a wh-clause follows: Listen to what they are saying!

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