The register of phrasal verbs
Wednesday 28 September 2011
by Liz Walter
When we were writing the examples and texts used in Phrasal Verbs for Natural English, a recurring problem was spotting rogue phrasal verbs that had crept into them. We had a rule that only the phrasal verbs being specifically practised in the unit should be used, to avoid confusing or overloading our students. This proved remarkably difficult to achieve without compromising the naturalness of our example texts.
We hope we succeeded, but it did reinforce the fact that phrasal verbs are an absolutely integral part of natural English. There can be tendency for students to rationalize their avoidance of phrasal verbs by characterising them as idiomatic and informal, and therefore outside the basic core of the language. There are, of course, phrasal verbs that are very informal, but there are also phrasal verbs that are very definitely formal – both are highlighted in our book. But there is also a middle ground of common, useful phrasal verbs that can be used in any register.
I thought it would be interesting to look at phrasal verb use in two newspapers of contrasting registers and readerships: The Telegraph, hardly known for its trendy informality, and, at the other end of the spectrum, The Mirror. I looked at three stories: one about a soldier killed in Afghanistan, one on William and Kate’s visit to Canada, and one on the funding of care for the elderly (characteristically headlined ‘£80,000 care fees for middle-class pensioners’ in The Telegraph, and ‘£2bn Granny Tax Shock’ in The Mirror.) I identified the phrasal verbs used in the reporting; and found the following:
Death of British soldier in Afghanistan
British sources played down speculation …
Ruthless fanatics carried out the execution in Helmand …
… allegations the local troops handed him over to a death squad …
… fears the Taliban had carried out the snatch after being tipped off that David Cameron was making a secret visit …
…the situation is safe enough to pull out hundreds more soldiers next year …
…Mr Cameron insisted he will press ahead with his troop cuts.
William and Kate in rowing race in Canada
…team Kate got off to a slow start.
The Duchess …pulled out after palace officials privately expressed concerns …
… showed him how to carry out an emergency landing …
… took photographs as her husband carried out the technique …
… the only air sea rescue force who regularly carry out ‘waterbirding’ …
… William had showed off his piloting skills …
The prince revelled in his team’s dragon boat victory …
The couple looked …relaxed … as they joked around outdoors.
… the prince showed off his moves with the help of the Canadian armed forces …
…he was very pleased to have pulled it off.
Funding care for elderly
The state would pick up bills above this cap.
..individuals would be expected to take out insurance.
…an overhaul of the way the elderly are looked after.
…the report, which sets out a ‘once in a lifetime chance’ to offer the nation’s elderly care …
…will allow them to plan ahead for how they wish to meet these costs.
…disappointment if a white paper on the recommendations was not carried out by next Easter …
…a date for when the Government would bring forward legislation.
Here are a few observations:
- If you only teach one phrasal verb to your intermediate students with a view to news comprehension, make it carry out! This phrasal verb occurred with startling frequency, and not only in these articles.
- The Telegraph used more phrasal verbs in the article about William and Kate than it did in the other two, perhaps because of the more light-hearted nature of the story.
- The Mirror used significantly more phrasal verbs than The Telegraph.
- Interestingly, although points 2 and 3 above might give weight to the ‘phrasal verbs are for informal contexts’ argument, if we look at the actual phrasal verbs used, the vast majority are not informal at all, and neither are they being used in informal contexts. I have to say that I am not entirely sure what to make of this – perhaps the phrasal verbs are somehow felt to contribute to a chattier and more accessible style, even though they are not intrinsically informal.
Of course, this is a tiny sample, but it is clear that you can pick up any newspaper and find phrasal verbs scattered throughout its articles. Another important point is that there are several examples here where it would be very difficult to substitute the phrasal verb with another verb or verbal phrase. For instance ‘take out insurance’ is simply the way we express that concept; no other verb will really do. So if learners of English are striving for naturalness, they cannot avoid phrasal verbs, much as they might want to.
Delta Development Blog
This blog will be updated at least once a week, so add it to your bookmarks. You can also subscribe to the feed to be notified when it's updated.
Meet the Bloggers
- Bob Dignen & Steve Flinders (February to April 2013)
- Hania Kryszewska & Paul Davis (April to June 2012)
- Louis Rogers (January to March 2012)
- Ken Paterson (December 2011 to February 2012)
- Richard Brown & Lewis Richards (September to November 2011)
- Liz Walter & Kate Woodford (September to October 2011)
- Kyle Mawer & Graham Stanley (April to August 2011)
- Nik Peachey (from November 2010)
- Nicky Hockly (September & October 2010)
- Julie Pratten (July & August 2010)
- Gill Johnson (April 2010)
- Chaz Pugliese (March 2010)
- Luke Meddings (August 2009)
- Lindsay Clandfield (July 2009)
- Duncan Foord (June 2009)
- Scott Thornbury (May 2009)
DIGITAL PLAY - 2012 ELTONS WINNER IN INNOVATION IN TEACHER RESOURCES! Digital Play is a pioneering book on the use of computer games in language teaching. Authors Kyle and Graham are experts in teaching with technology and training teachers in innovative classroom practice.
Teaching Unplugged was awarded the British Council 2010 ELTons UK Award for Innovation. Teaching Unplugged is the first book to deal comprehensively with the approach in English Language Teaching known as Dogme ELT.
Part of the Delta Teacher Development Series. Being Creative takes you on a journey that reveals how all teachers have the potential to become creative. Whether you are experienced or new to the classroom, Being Creative allows your teaching to take flight.
The Book of Pronunciation
Part of the multi-award-winning Delta Teacher Development Series. The Book of Pronunciation is a definitive account of the key role pronunciation plays in teaching and learning, providing a highly authoritative but hugely accessible overview of the essential elements of English pronunciation as well as a wide range of classroom practice.
The Company Words Keep
Part of the multi-award-winning Delta Teacher Development Series. The Company Words Keep is a practical and thought-provoking guide for language teachers, showing how the latest insights into “language chunks” can lead to learners acquiring natural and fluent English.
Teaching Online is essential reading for any teacher interested in online teaching and course delivery. It deals comprehensively with both the tools and the techniques necessary for online language instruction.
The Developing Teacher
The Developing Teacher has been awarded the 2009 Duke of Edinburgh/ESU Award for Best Entry for Teachers. The Developing Teacher suggests that teachers themselves are the most powerful agents of change and development in their own professional career.
The Business English Teacher
From the multi-award-winning DELTA TEACHER DEVELOPMENT SERIES. The Business English Teacher is a book not only for teachers who are thinking of making a career move into the field of business English teaching but also for those who would like to increase their skills and develop their potential.
Culture in our Classrooms
Part of the Delta Teacher Development Series. Culture in our Classrooms acknowledges the role of culture in the English Language Teaching classroom and provides lesson content which is relevant, useful and engaging for students.
11 Feb 16
8 Jan 16
2 Jul 15
16 Jun 15
2 Jun 15
29 Apr 15
10 Apr 15
8 Apr 15
1 Apr 15
13 Mar 15
13 Feb 15
30 Jan 15
16 Jan 15
11 Dec 14
27 Nov 14