Verbs with prepositions - succinct writing

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Phrasal verbs (e.g., to get away, to put off) are usually more appropriate in informal circumstances, such as speaking or emails. Single-word verbs (often derived from Latin) are usually more appropriate in formal writing. However, Latinate verbs can sound too corporate or dry. So, writers should always consider whether the clarity and naturalness afforded by a phrasal verb is worth the informality it will also bring.

Some phrasal verbs have prepositions that do not add anything. In those circumstances, delete the prepositions to improve succinctness (e.g., I cannot face up to the consequences becomes I cannot face the consequences.)

Verbs with Prepositions

A verb like to face up to, to give up, to put up with (i.e., a single verb made up of more than one word) is called a phrasal verb.

Phrasal verbs usually take the form:

VERB + PREPOSITION (e.g., to break up, to get over).

More often than not, a phrasal verb will have derived from our Germanic heritage. As the Germanic traits in our language stem from the language of the common people, phrasal verbs are usually very easy on the ear for native English speakers. However, in business writing (or formal correspondence), writers are expected to avoid phrasal verbs because they can seem a little too informal and because they eat up your word count.

In formal writing, there is a leaning towards Latinate verbs, i.e., those which derive from our French heritage. As a rule, these verbs tend to be just one word and more formal sounding. (This is because the French traits in our language stem from the language of the aristocracy.)

Reasons to Avoid Phrasal Verbs

There are three good reasons to avoid a phrasal verb:

(1) It sounds too informal, and a Latinate verb would be more appropriate (particularly in business writing).

Examples:
  • All staff must get together on the tennis court.
  • (okay)
  • All staff must congregate on the tennis court.
  • (preferable)

  • The meeting is put off until Tuesday.
  • (okay)
  • The meeting is postponed until Tuesday.
  • (preferable)

  • Attempt to put the fire out.
  • (okay)
  • Attempt to extinguish the fire.
  • (Is this preferable? Clarity sometimes trumps style. See Reasons to Use Phrasal Verbs below.)
(2) It has unnecessary prepositions that don't add anything.

Examples:
  • I cannot face up to this problem.
  • (okay)
  • I cannot face this problem.
  • (better – more succinct)

  • Try this new garlic dip out.
  • (okay)
  • Try this new garlic dip.
  • (better – more succinct)

  • She will not stand for shoddy work.
  • (okay)
  • She will not stand shoddy work.
  • (better – more succinct)
(3) It would mean ending a sentence in a preposition, and that is a situation you're trying to avoid.

Examples:
  • It is a situation I will not put up with.
  • (okay)
  • It is a situation I will not tolerate.
  • (safer)

  • Can you sort it out? (okay)
  • Can you resolve it? (safer)

Reasons to Use Phrasal Verbs

There are good reasons to use a phrasal verb:

(1) Being more natural sounding, a phrasal verb is a better fit for your image.
  • We would not expect you to tolerate a second-rate service.
  • (understandable but perhaps a little too corporate and dry)
  • Don't put up with bad service.
  • (more tuned to the "character" of your business)
(2) A phrasal verb is clearer than the Latinate version.
  • The framework is required to concatenate the disparate elements.
  • (Too high a risk that it won't be understood)
  • The framework is required to join up each element.
  • (safer)
CHOOSE THE BEST VERB FOR YOU IN FORMAL WRITING

Verbs made up of more than one word (e.g., to get away, to look after, to put off) are known as phrasal verbs. These are usually used in informal circumstances, such as speaking or emails. The single-word versions (usually derived from Latin) are often more appropriate in formal writing.

Examples:

  • We will get together at 6.
  • We will congregate at 1800 hrs.
  • (to congregate – Latinate version of to get together)

  • We've put the meeting off until Tue.
  • The meeting is postponed until Tuesday.
  • (to postpone – Latinate version of to put off)
However, for some companies, Latinate verbs can sound too corporate or dry. Also, Latinate verbs (e.g. to militate and to mitigate) often run a higher a risk of being misunderstood. There is no hard and fast rule like: do not use phrasal verbs in formal writing. Writers should, however, always consider whether the clarity and naturalness afforded by a phrasal verb is worth the informality it will also bring.


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