The Short Answer
The short answer for this is very simple. “Obstruct” is a transitive verb, which means that it must have a direct object. In simple terms, it means the action (verb), in this case – obstructing, must be done to something (direct object).
“Do not obstruct here” seems to have an object in “here” so why is it wrong? This is because the direct object(something) has to be a pronoun, noun or noun phrase but “here” is an adverb so it cannot be that something that can be obstructed.
The Long Answer
Initially, I was confused by the sign because it appears to be fine but there was nagging feeling that it was not grammatically correct. I did a quick search on Google but I was not able to find anything helpful so I decided to look at a few corpora to see if they might shed some light. Among the several corpora I searched, there was only one recorded usage of “obstruct here” in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. However, it was from a politician’s interview recorded on television so I would not count that as an example of a correct usage. With this, I am more convinced that “obstruct here” is wrong but what is wrong?
Let us see if the dictionary definitions can help us identify the way word “obstruct” is used in this sense. We will use Oxford Living Dictionaries online as it is the most generous with examples and I believe the examples can help us clarify the usage.
Oxford lists 5 different but related definitions for the word “obstruct” and the one that is most relevant to the sign is this:
These are the examples provided:
- ‘she was obstructing the entrance’.
- ‘In public areas and roadside locations, signs must not be placed on or obstruct footpaths, traffic islands, roads or walkover bridges.’
- ‘The vehicle was obstructing the whole road which caused Whalley Old Road to be blocked.’
- ‘But sometimes it obstructs the opening between the appendix and intestine and lead to inflammation of the appendix (appendicitis).’
- ‘I am on my way to a superb running catch when my path is obstructed by a goat.’
- ‘The three told the court that they had not at any time obstructed the road and gave an undertaking not to do so.’
- ‘Kidney stones are another source of blockage that may obstruct the path of urine.’
- ‘The amount of scar tissue formed, however, and the degree to which it obstructs the hole is something that needs to be investigated.’
- ‘Officers also requested business operators who place their signboards in the public areas to ensure that the signs do not become an eyesore or obstruct pedestrian walkways.’
- ‘The roads are all so long, and pockets of tall buildings intersperse themselves with markets and shady alleys, and your planned route may easily
- be interrupted by a large flyover or highway suddenly obstructing your path.’
- ‘As for the problem of motorbikes for hire and rental vehicles obstructing the roads and walkways, the mayor said the city plans to designate parking areas, which he said should alleviate that particular problem.’
- ‘He got out of his seat and stepped back, not wanting to obstruct her path.’
- ‘One youth lay on the road in front of the vehicle obstructing its path, while the remainder of the group attacked the vehicle, banging on its sides, windows and doors.’
- ‘On a serious note, I do hope the council will include motorists who obstruct cycle lanes and green boxes.’
- ‘The significant cause of the congestion is vehicles being illegally parked on the double yellow lines and obstructing the narrow roads for other traffic.’
- ‘However, it was just enough of a touch to obstruct the path of the ball.’
- ‘He wasn’t learning very quickly – he was supposed to obstruct the path of the trainer before she gets too close to the edge, but he really wasn’t getting the idea.’
- ‘An aged, wooden blockade obstructed the pebbled road, so they had to park Raven’s Ferrari in front of it and continue the travel on foot.’
- ‘The number of demonstrators was sharply reduced and they did not obstruct the roads.’
- ‘As far as possible, radio relay stations ought to be placed at a distance from the mountaintop that obstructs the path but in a manner that it be seen from either station.’
- ‘They also complained that the company did not follow the county’s priorities for power restoration and did not help road maintenance workers clear roads obstructed by fallen trees wrapped by power lines.’
From the sentences above, I have extracted the objects that can be obstructed. entrance
- footpaths, traffic islands, roads or walkover bridges.
- the whole road
- opening between the appendix and intestine
- my path
- the road
- path of urine
- the hole
- pedestrian walkways
- your path
- the roads and walkways
- her path
- its path
- cycle lanes and green boxes
- the narrow roads
- the path of the ball
- the path of the trainer
- the pebbled road
- the roads
- the path
We can see that they are either an opening to a pathway (entrance or opening to a pathway) or a pathway (paths, roads, walkways, cycle lanes, footpaths, traffic islands, roads or walkover bridges) and movement must take place on them or through them.
In the sign “Do not obstruct here”, the “here” refers to the staircase that leads to the entrance of the MRT station so the idea is correct since it is asking people not to block the pathway that leads to the MRT station. So why is it wrong to use “here” here?
The reason lies in the part of speech of the direct object. According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, a direct object is a “noun, noun phrase or pronoun that refers to a person or thing that is directly affected by the action of a verb.” Since “here” is an adverb and not a noun, noun phrase or pronoun, it cannot be used as the direct object of the verb “obstruct”.
You understand this now? So clever. 🙂
Where was this picture taken? You will get bonus points if you can identify where this picture was taken. I do not know what you can do with the points but you will get them anyway.