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Synonyms of English Phrasal Verbs

In English, there is a tendency to use phrasal verbs more in spoken and colloquial communication than in formal writing. In formal written communication, however, people often prefer to use English verbs derived from French, Latin, and Classical Greek. This is only a tendency; nevertheless, it is a salient one and it has a long history.

While the phrasal verb was evolving naturally in the English language, an event happened that caused English to evolve along two parallel paths. This event was the Norman French occupation of England.

In 1066, William the Conqueror of Normandy placed all of England under an occupation that was to last for almost a century and a half. During this time, the French language came to dominate the upper echelons of English society while the English language was allowed to languish. Then, in 1204, England became officially separated from France again and the English language was once more free to flourish.

By this time, the English language had become uncultivated. And since French was the language of the educated people at that time, it was inevitable that scholars would draw new words from the French language in order to help replenish the impoverished English language (Nist, 1966). Coincidentally, at that time many educated people also knew how to read and write Latin and Classical Greek; so they turned to these languages as well to find new words for English in order to help them keep up with new fields of learning for which there were no English words.

English became laden with foreign terms that vied with native English words to express shades of the same idea. Nuances of a word like foretell could be expressed with the Latin word predict or with the Greek word prophesy. As a result, while the native phrasal verb continued to evolve naturally in the population to express ordinary needs and topics, foreign words provided people with a scholarly and scientific vocabulary.

Even today, English continues to evolve along these two parallel paths. As a result, hundreds of native English phrasal verbs have French, Latin, or Classical Greek counterparts with almost the same meanings but with a slightly more erudite ring to them. The list below illustrates this fact.

Before the hyphen are selected English phrasal verbs; After the hyphen are nonphrasal synonyms of French, Latin, or Greek origin.

blow up - explode
bring about - cause, engender
come to - revive
put off - postpone
look up to - admire, respect, esteem
put out - extinguish
put together - assemble, compose, synthesize
look forward to - anticipate
hand in -  submit
rack up - accumulate
get around - circumvent
make up - fabricate
stand for - represent
find out - ascertain
speed up - accelerate
leave out - omit
make up - constitute
point out - indicate, designate
pull out - extract
throw up - vomit
go against - oppose

As teachers, it is important that you not only teach the meanings of phrasal verbs, but also see to it that students understand the appropriate registers for their use.