Tips to Avoid Phrasal Verbs in Formal Writing

The term phrasal verb may not sound familiar, but you often use phrasal verbs while speaking. Phrasal verbs are made up of multiple words ‒ the primary verb and a particle (a preposition or adverb, or both). When you use these words together, the collective meaning differs from that of the individual words. This naturally makes them difficult to comprehend for the people for whom English is the second language.

For instance, the word “take” can mean “to reach for something and hold it” or “to remove something” – like taking the wallet out of your pocket. The word “off” can mean something gone bad, on leave, etc. But when used together, “take off” becomes a phrasal verb meaning an aircraft flying off or someone running away.

Using Phrasal Verbs in Academic Writing

Phrasal verbs are both acceptable and common in spoken English, but in academic writing, most of them are considered informal. Moreover, phrasal verbs frequently have more than one meaning. As you want to write a paper that’s easy-to-read and understand, you’re better off substituting phrasal verbs with formal one-word replacements.

Different Kinds of Phrasal Verbs

A further distinction is made between intransitive phrasal verbs (they have no object) and transitive phrasal verbs (they do have an object).

Phrasal verbs can be intransitive (they have no object) or transitive (they do have an object). For example:

  • Intransitive: They “set out” to prove that…
  • Transitive: This “sets off” the reaction…

Transitive phrasal verbs can be further divided into separable and inseparable phrasal verbs, depending on whether the verb and its particle can be separated in the sentence. For instance:

  • Separable: This “sets” the reaction “off.”
  • Inseparable: We “set about” converting the tune into a theme song.

Also, if (in the transitive form) the object is a pronoun, then the pronoun must go before the particle:

  • This “sets off” the reaction.
  • This “sets” the reaction “off.”
  • This “sets” it “off.” (NEVER This “sets off it.”)

Various Meanings of Phrasal Verbs

As phrasal verbs have several meanings, it’s advisable to avoid using them in academic papers.

For instance, see how the phrasal verb “put off” is used:

  • She was visibly put off by the bad service at that expensive Italian restaurant.

Depending on the context, the phrasal verb “put off” has various interpretations. Here are a few of them:

  • Make an individual dislike something
  • Cause a delay
  • Make something take place later
  • Organize to meet someone at another time
  • Break someone’s concentration
  • Turn something off

Naturally, utilizing a single-word replacement is recommended to ensure that the reader comprehends your message correctly. Here’s how the above sentence can be rephrased:

  • She was visibly upset by the bad service at that expensive Italian restaurant.

Phrasal Verbs You Must Eliminate from Formal Writing

While certain phrasal verbs are acceptable, most of the others should be avoided in academic writing. The following phrasal verbs are a few examples with suitable one-word replacements:

Hold up (delay)

Hold out (wait)

Use up (exhaust)

Call off (cancel)

Figure out (solve)

Leave out (omit)

Pass out (distribute)

Turn down (reject)

Go on (continue)

Suitable Phrasal Verbs in Formal Writing

Given below are a few examples of phrasal verbs that can be utilized in academic writing:

  • They carried out the task…
  • The outcome points towards an alternate…
  • All the suggestions were based on …
  • Each individual is subjected to …

We hope you learned something new while reading this article. Perhaps, you have a few thoughts and ideas of your own. It would be wonderful if you shared them in the comments segment below.

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