How to Avoid Phrasal Verbs in Academic Writing?
It’s entirely normal for us to use phrasal verbs in our daily conversations. In addition, most novels, books and blogs use phrasal verbs, too. However, we must follow a relatively formal approach while writing academic papers and assignments.
Phrasal verbs are acceptable in spoken English. However, in academic writing, it makes your content informal. As a result, many students lose marks unnecessarily for using phrasal verbs in their work.
Why are Phrasal Verbs Unacceptable in Academic Writing?
Apart from being informal, phrasal verbs can have different meanings. While you might know the context of the phrasal verb you’re using, your audience might perceive it wrongly. In academic writing, it is essential to keep your content clear, concise and understandable. Adding phrasal verbs can badly affect the overall readability of your paper. Therefore, it’s better to replace them with formal one-word alternatives.
Types of Phrasal Verb
People normally use two types of phrasal verbs while talking or writing:
These verbs do not involve a direct object. Here are some phrasal verbs examples:
- “Turn up” the volume Jason!
- “Step aside” Messi, Modric is the World’s Best Football Player 2022.
On the other hand, these do involve a direct object. For example:
- Don’t worry about Steve; he gets “carried away” whenever someone talks about their marriage.
- Your phone is ready to use sir, just “turn it on”.
There are two types of transitive phrasal verbs:
You can use these verbs separately. For instance:
- “Turn” your phone “off” when you board the flight.
- The terrorist has threatened to “set” the bombs “off”.
You can’t use these verbs separately. You must accommodate them in a sentence in their full form. For example:
- A woman “fell off” the 36th floor in Manhattan.
- Thieves “broke into” my apartment while I was attending a lecture.
If the object in your sentence is a pronoun, the pronoun should come before the phrasal verb segment. For instance:
- Adam knows my alarm is incredibly loud; that’s why he “sets” it “off” every time I try to study.
Phrasal Verbs Can Have Different Meanings
As mentioned previously, phrasal verbs can have different meanings. Let’s consider “break into” as a suitable example:
- If you don’t lock your house properly, someone might break into your house and steal valuables from there.
- Don’t mention Anna’s ex-husband while talking to her; she might break into tears.
The phrasal verb “break into” has been used in both these sentences, but its meaning is utterly different in both of these cases. Similarly, many other phrasal verbs can have different meanings, depending on the context of the sentence.
Excess use of phrasal verbs in your content can lead to a lack of clarity. Therefore, you should not use them in academic papers.
Academic papers are required to explain arguments, concepts, and theories in a detailed and clear manner. Using phrasal verbs can not only make your content look informal and unprofessional, but readers will also fail to understand the point you’re trying to make. This practice would make the massive amount of research you have carried out for your paper entirely pointless.
Acceptable Phrasal Verbs in Academic Writing
While phrasal verbs are not recommended in academic writing, there are some verbs you can make an exception for:
- Point Out:
Sample Sentence: In his speech, Gandhi pointed out the problems in the British Government.
- Look Into:
Sample Sentence: We had to look into inefficiencies in our circuit’s design to make it easily usable.
- Make Up:
Sample Sentence: It was important for us to train the network multiple times to make up for the inefficiencies in the provided code.
- Set Up:
Sample Sentence: We had to set up our solar energy system properly to produce more electricity.
- Find Out
Sample Sentence: In the research phase of our project, we found out the most environment-friendly energy production solutions.
- Bring About:
Sample Sentence: The Government of Canada made many efforts to bring about a positive environmental change.
- Go On:
Sample Sentence: Albert Einstein went on to make amazing inventions and discoveries in the field of nuclear physics.
If you want the content of your academic paper clear and easily understandable, you should avoid using phrasal verbs. In addition, these verbs might be acceptable for blogs, articles and non-academic content. However, you should prefer formal phrasal verbs like those mentioned above or formal one-word alternatives for academic writing.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1: Do we use phrasal verbs in formal writing?
You shouldn’t use a phrasal verb in formal writing. It makes your content look informal, unprofessional, and unclear. They can also have different contextual meanings. It’ll affect your paper’s readability, something you don’t want to do while explaining complicated concepts. While using phrasal verbs is not recommended for academic writing, you can make an exception for some of them, including:
- Bring About
- Point Out
- Turn Out
- Set Up
- Make Up
- Take On
- Find Out
- Go on
2: How often are phrasal verbs used?
80% of the verbs English speakers typically use are phrasal verbs. Our everyday speech contains many informal and formal phrasal verbs. You can also use informal phrasal verbs in blogs, articles and other types of commercial or casual content. However, you can only use a formal phrasal verb in academic writing, as it has to be formal, clear and descriptive.
3: How can phrasal verbs be improved?
If you have used many informal phrasal verbs in your academic work, it’s better to replace them with formal alternatives. Therefore, you can use the formal phrasal verbs mentioned above, or you can go for one-word alternatives.