‘Should I Stop Using Phrasal Verbs in My Speech?’

Non-native speakers often don’t really understand phrasal verbs and why native speakers use them in their speech. There is this idea that phrasal verbs are unsophisticated and make your English sound unintelligent.

It is true in one sense that phrasal verbs are unsophisticated, but only when we compare them to the formal equivalent of the verb. In English there is often a formal verb such as ‘suggest’ and a phrasal verb with the same meaning such as ‘put forward’. However, even through phrasal verbs are less formal, it does not mean that they are bad to use and create a negative impression when you speak English.

Native speakers speak at the right register for the situation – that means they strike a balance between being formal and informal when they talk. They never want to sound too formal for the situation they are in. This is one reason why we use phrasal verbs all the time in our everyday speech.

Another reason that native speakers use phrasal verbs is to do with the history of the English language, which evolved from Anglo-Saxon and French origins. Over time the two languages became the English we speak today, but a split in the language still remains. Words from French are words of power and are formal, whereas words from Anglo-Saxon are neutral words for everyday life. We prefer to use French origin words only in formal communication, such as writing. Verbs like ‘suggest’ are formal to us.

Learning phrasal verbs is a lot of work and you may not decide you want to put in the time and effort it takes to master them. However, if you don’t use phrasal verbs it will give your speech a formal quality. You know that you are truly fluent in English when you are able to use and understand phrasal verbs in your everyday communication.