I won’t tolerate it! Replacing formal words with phrasal verbs.

by Liz Walter​
When you are using a language, it is important to understand if a word is formal or informal, so that you can use it in an appropriate way. You might hear people saying dosh for money, or spud for potato, but they wouldn’t write those words in a formal essay. Similarly, a lawyer’s letter might include very formal terms such as heretofore or pursuant to, but nobody uses them in speech or informal writing.

Learners sometimes have problems with this issue when they try to avoid phrasal verbs by using a single word verb instead. This is particularly true when they have a similar word in their own language, for example tolerate in English and tolérer in French or tolerar in Spanish. Although the meaning is the same, tolerate is a more formal word in English. In speech, we would be much more likely to say put up with: I don’t know how she puts up with his behaviour.

Unfortunately, verbs like tolerate are not always so formal that they have a formal label in a dictionary, so here are a few useful ones where it sounds more natural to use the phrasal verb in everything except formal writing:

accelerate/speed up: I wish we could speed up the process.

address/deal with: We need to deal with the problem as soon as we can.

cohabit/live together: They have been living together for two years.

decelerate/slow down: You need to slow down when you go round the corner.

discard/throw away: I threw away all my old notes.

encounter/come across: I came across this photo in his desk.

erect/put up: He put up a fence.

omit/leave out: You should fill in the form, but leave out the bit about your education.

participate/join in: He refused to join in the games.

rebuke/tell off: The teacher told them off for talking in class.

replace/put back: She borrows my pens and never puts them back.

resemble/take after: He’s very tall. He takes after his father.

return/go back: We went back to the same restaurant the next week.

rise/go up: Prices are going up but my wages stay the same.

sacrifice/give up: She had to give up her university place to care for her sister.

If you use a single verb in sentences like these, people will understand your meaning. However, you would lose marks in an exam for using words that are too formal. If you want your spoken English to sound as natural as possible, I’m afraid you can’t avoid phrasal verbs. The ones in this list are all common and worth learning.

32 thoughts on “I won’t tolerate it! Replacing formal words with phrasal verbs.

  1. sanaa

    I want to know if i online Cambridge Advance learners dictionary is available in android appstore? Can we buy and use it offline?

  2. Thanks! Well, actually I know these phrasal verbs, however I did not know that using the corresponding single verbs instead would lead to losing marks in the exams 🙂

  3. Abubakr Sudan

    I am not realy find suitable words to express my feelings better to thank you our teachers . My problem till now I am not able to deal with phrasal verbs . Can you please re write my comment correctly using phrasal verbs .
    I used deal with unconsciously .

  4. I dont understand why test takers should lose marks for using slightly more formal words like tolerate which are fine for certain academic or professional situations. I see that phrasal verbs are difficult to acquire but I think to say that formal verbs are “wrong” might be misleading. Surel student s need to learn language that is appropriate for the situation?

    1. Liz Walter

      Yes, I totally agree. In formal writing they are fine, so it depends on the nature of the writing being asked for in the test – it might be, for example a diary entry or a blog, where a more informal style is wanted
      . As you say, the key is that the language should be appropriate for the situation, but we do know that many students use these single words where they aren’t really appropriate or in situations where native speakers would be much less likely to use them.

    2. Mariam03

      I completely agree with you. but I reckon that they are doing so because student might not use the formal English in all cases. I mean when they talk with the public for example they do use informal English. As a result they must know both the formal and informal English. In addition, for the FCE exam takers, ( I’m one of them) they have writing tasks for both formal and informal English. That’s immensely confusing for me but we just have to!

  5. oscar torres

    phrasal verbs is what really distinguish english idiom from other languages and that is why they must be used.

  6. Panda

    You can use “take part in” instead of “participate”. :). I come across this phrase more frequently than “joint in”

  7. Antonio

    I actually like to sound a bit more formal in casual situations.
    At least I have the impression to be educated and I can hide the fact I spent my school years playing videogames.

  8. Mir Mohamad Ali

    This is a very useful article and i have a request to put more phrasal word up in this article for learners to further knowledge.
    I appreciate for your describe and introduce these phrasal word, if you can, could you please give an address to study about the phrasal words ;of course free and not to purchase; because in my country”Iran” i don’t have any accessibility to VISA,MasterCard and etc…. to buy them; meanwhile all product and issues about the learning English from Cambridge university are excellent and awful,really awful.
    Thank you so much

  9. Liz Walter

    No problem, Mir – you have learned something useful today! Maybe you have heard the word ‘awesome’ which is an informal word meaning ‘very good’.

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  12. Carter Stanton

    I do not think replace has the same meaning as the phrasal term put back. A more sensical alternative would be the word return or restitute. I am aware that return is already used for the phrasal term go back but I think it is a more accurate representative of put back and restitute is even more accurate than return.

    1. Liz Walter

      Thanks for your comment. I was thinking of an everyday context such as ‘I put the books back on the shelf.’ I agree that ‘return’ would also be possible. ‘Restitute’ is extremely formal, and I don’t think most people would ever use it outside of a context such as a legal document.

  13. Pingback: I won’t tolerate it! Replacing formal words with phrasal verbs – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog | Editorial Words

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