On today’s episode I want to introduce a few phrasal verbs that are suitable for formal English! Phrasal verbs can be confusing; are they formal or informal? How do we use them? When do we use them? Hopefully by the end of this episode you’ll be able to use seven phrasal verbs that are perfect for business, IELTS or TOEFL exams, and other formal situations!

(If you can’t see the podcast player click here to listen!)

Vocabulary List

To distinguish (v) – to notice or understand the difference between two things, or to make one person or thing seem different from another

It is important to distinguish between business and pleasure

To specify (v) – to explain or describe something clearly and exactly

He said we should meet but didn’t specify a time

indirect (adj) – happening in addition to an intended result, often in a way that is complicated or not obvious

Indirect effects of the war include disease and food shortages

Boastful (adj) – praising yourself and what you have done

He was confident, not boastful

jet lag (n) – the feeling of tiredness and confusion that people experience after making a long journey by plane to a place where the time is different from the place they left

Every time i fly to the USA, I get really bad jet lag

Venture (n) – new activity, usually in business, that involves risk or uncertainty

She advised us to look abroad for more lucrative business ventures

To reduce (v) – to become or to make something become smaller in size, amount, degree, importance, etc

Do nuclear weapons really reduce the risk of war?

How confident are you at using phrasal verbs? For non-native English speakers, learning and using the multitude of commonly used phrasal verbs can be a terrifying prospect. What is a phrasal verb? Which verbs to use? When to use them? How to use them? Nevertheless, phrasal verbs, like with idioms, are an essential step on the road to fluency as well as helping to distinguish beginners from advanced speakers!

What is a phrasal verb? This is the simple part!! Phrasal verbs are used exactly like other verbs and are a combination of a verb, such as ‘buy’ or ‘write’, plus one or two particles ( normally an adverb or a preposition). This creates a new expression that has a different meaning from the original verb. For example, adding the preposition ‘out’ to the verb ‘sell’ results in the phrasal verb ‘sell out’ which means to have sold all items of product so that there are no more left. There is now a new meaning!!

If you’ve been learning English for a while now, you might have heard that phrasal verbs are informal. In some contexts this is true! Phrasal verbs are particularly common in normal conversation. Using phrasal verbs in your informal speech  can make you sound more natural, and for non-native English speakers, using them makes your speech much more like that of a native English speaker! You might have also heard that you shouldn’t use phrasal verbs in formal writing, but this is not always the case!

There are numerous phrasal verbs that can and should be used in formal writing. You will often see them used in formal situations such as business letters, academic writing, scientific papers, technical papers, legal documents, news reports, and official government documents. Of course, there are some phrasal verbs that are more informal and therefore unsuitable for formal writing. However, most phrasal verbs are neutral, neither informal or formal, and in general there’s no reason to specify they shouldn’t be used in formal writing. So, the rest of this episode will introduce a few phrasal verbs that you can definitely use formally! Whether it’s for business, university, IELTS, TOEFL, or simply formal writing, these will be perfect for you!

Allude to

When we ‘allude to’ something, we mention that something in an indirect way. Instead of openly talking about it, we hint at something or maybe mention it without discussing it at length. People allude to things in all kinds of situations! Boastful business people never fail to allude to their success in conversations; authors often allude to their previous works in their novels; and politicians or leaders will allude to their policies in speeches! In these cases, the thing they are alluding to is not the focus or main topic of their conversation, writing, or speech, but they mention it anyway in an indirect way!

Do without

If you’re listening to this podcast, you’re very likely to be learning or practicing your English online! Do you ever think about how people studied languages in the past? How did they do without the internet? How did they do without podcasts, apps, and blogs? How did they do without google translate? ‘Do withou’t is an incredibly useful phrasal verb!  It means to not have something, or to live, work, etc., without having something. My father often tells me that when he was young he had to do without many of the luxuries that modern families have. We also often put ‘can’ or ‘could’ in front of ‘do without’, to say that one does not like or approve of something. I like travelling, for example, but can do without jet lag! What things can you do without? What can’t you do without?

Embark on/upon

At the end of September this year, I embarked upon a new project (that project is this podcast). We use embark on or embark upon in two main situations. The first is when we begin a journey, for instance ‘I embarked upon my trip north with enthusiasm’. The second situation is when we begin something that will take a long time or happen for a long time. Often this might be a career, a project, or a new business venture. Really, we can embark upon anything that is difficult and will take a long time! Why did you choose to embark upon  your chosen career? Do you have dreams to embark on a world tour?

Frown upon

To frown upon something is to disapprove of something. If your company frowns upon employees dating each other, that means they disapprove of them dating. Where does this saying come from? Well, a frown is a facial expression. It is the facial expression we make when we want to indicate disapproval, displeasure, or sometimes concentration. Essentially, a frown is the opposite of a smile. What things are frowned upon in your culture? When you were younger, did your parents frown upon anything you used to do? WHat does your company frown upon?

Map out

I don’t have my future mapped out. I don’t know where i will live or what i will do. How about you? Do you have your future mapped out? This phrasal verb means to plan in detail how something will happen. Especially using illustration, drawing, or something visual. We can map out our futures, or a plan of action. Some people map out their careers, others never map out anything!

Narrow down

I need all of your help to narrow down the topics I could record podcasts on! WHat are you interested in? What do you want to learn about? Send me a message and help me narrow it down! Narrowing down is basically reducing the number of possibilities. We do this to make it more manageable and easier to make decisions, understand, or complete the task. When you’re hiring a new employee, you need to narrow down the candidates. When you travel, you need to narrow down the places you want to visit!

Resort to

When you have an argument or disagreement with someone, what do you do? Have you ever resorted to insults? Or resorted to violence? We use ‘resort to’ when we do or use (something) that we find unpleasant and especially because no other choices are possible. When i was a student, a number of my friends ran out of money and resorted to asking their parents for extra funds. Have you ever had to resort to something? 

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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