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How can I Come up with Good Phrasal Verbs? Please Stick Around.

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Phrasal verbs often appear in informal language. But should I really avoid using them in my writing, or are some appropriate?

Phrasal verbs in (formal) writing
Some say phrasal verbs are too informal for good writing. But is this true?

Phrasal verbs are actually quite common in English. These verbs consist of a proper verb and one or more preposition(s), such as up, in, or about. As units, they can express either similar or very distinct meanings from those of their stem alone.

Compare:

I better take my jacket tonight.

The most popular colleague took over the company.

Since the moment she came, I took against her.

Are there Many Phrasal Verbs?

Please note two things: Sometimes the preposition may appear at the end of the sentence (e.g., in sentences with a direct object). Not every preposition following a verb indicates a phrasal verb.

Unfortunately, her ex-husband didn’t take all his stupids belongings back.
I looked in the mirror, and it broke at its surface.

Common Phrasal Verbs

  • With “up”: cheer up, clear up, dress up, fill up, grow up, keep up, stand up, step up, turn up, warm up, wake up
  • With “off”: back off, blow off, cut off, show off, walk off, wear off
  • With “down”: back down, break down, close down, shut down
  • With “on”: carry on, hang on


Should I Use Phrasal Verbs in my Formal Writing?

You can’t give general advice on using or not using phrasal verbs. There are some which are very informal, and therefore not appropriate in writing:

She keeps harping on us about her ridiculous request.

However, many phrasal verbs are considered to be neutral. So, there’s no need to avoid them. Some of them are even a better option than a single-word verb would be:

Let’s continue on with the next project right after getting through with this one.

Let’s do the next project right after finishing this one.

There are even examples of really formal phrasal verbs. You should be aware of these and only use them in a suitable context:

The rules set forth hereunder concern every remote party.

You should always be ashamed if you ever offend against good manners.


Is it Appropriate to Include Phrasal Verbs in my Written Texts?

In some cases, you’ll encounter two synonymous verbs, one being a single word and the other one being a phrasal verb. You should prefer the single word—at least in your written language.

Let’s meet online when we finish our daily business.

Let’s meet up online when we finish off our daily business.

  • Try not to use informal (mostly figurative) phrasal verbs.
  • Go for neutral phrasal verbs in your writing.
  • Only use formal phrasal verbs in reasonable settings.
  • If you have the choice, take the non-phrasal verb instead.

LanguageTool always knows which phrasal verbs are too informal or too formal. Whenever you aren’t sure about the best preposition for your verb, the writing assistant offers you guidance. To wrap up this article: sit down now, reason out phrasal verbs, and come up with nice idioms for your writing.


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