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Academic Paper


Title: Phrasal verbs: ‘a process of the common, relatively uneducated, mind’?
Author: Kate Wild
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: If you look through a modern guide to English usage, you will probably find that it has something to say about phrasal verbs. It might be a warning not to use certain phrasal verbs in certain contexts. For example, Allen (2005: 181–90) offers a table of ‘more formal alternatives to those phrasal verbs that can sometimes be too informal for writing’, with suggestions for replacing sum up with conclude and step down with resign, among others. In many cases, it will be a warning about phrasal verbs where the adverbial particle adds little semantic content to the verb: The Chicago Manual of Style advises writers to ‘avoid the phrasal verb if the verb alone conveys essentially the same meaning – e.g. rest up is equivalent to rest’ (2003: 174). It might attribute such usages to American English, as in Evans' (2000: 54–5) comment that phrasal verbs such as win out, stop off and check up on, which ‘grow like toadstools’, are ‘American parasites’. It might be a positive comment, such as Bryson's note that phrasal verbs are ‘one of the most versatile features of English’, but if so, it will probably be qualified: Bryson adds that in many cases the added particles ‘are merely a sign of careless writing’ (Bryson, 2002: 156–7). What is it about phrasal verbs that provokes such comments? By examining grammars, usage books, dictionaries and other materials since the eighteenth century, I will discuss changing attitudes towards phrasal verbs and how they fit into the context of broader opinions about language.

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This article appears IN English Today Vol. 27, Issue 4, which you can READ on Cambridge's site .



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