Phrasal Verbs for Writing

This is a list of 10 great phrasal verbs that can be used in a variety of writing (and speaking) tasks. It is an extract from the Real Exam English podcast:

So,  one of my C1 students, Amaya, asked me for a list of phrasal verbs that would be good to use in the different types of writing, essay, reports, emails or whatever. Her problem was that despite knowing and having studied many different phrasal verbs when it comes to the time to include one in a writing she can´t think of any.

So I´ve put together a list of 10 phrasal verbs that are really versatile and I thought it would be great idea to share this with you lovely listeners. So these phrasal verbs can be used in the writing or speaking parts of exams and can be used for a variety of topics too. I´ll explain the meaning of the phrasal verbs and give examples of where you might be able to use them in an exam.

Ok then so our first phrasal verb is look forward to. This means to feel happy about something that is going to happen, like I´m really looking forward to seeing my family again. Note that the verb that follows look forward to is seeing, which is in the gerund or ing form. It may seem a bit weird to have to followed by ING but the to belongs to the phrasal verb look forward to, rather than the verb that follows, seeing in our example. You can also follow look forward to with a noun, like I´m looking forward to a beer.

So where could you use this in an exam. Well definitely in a speaking exam, any time you are asked about the future, like what plans do you have for the weekend or for the summer you could use this. For example, this summer I´m going to travel around Australia in a campervan with a bunch of my mates, it´s been ages since we´ve seen each other so we´re really looking forward to it. In a writing exam this could be used in a letter, either informal or formal and in fact is a very typical way to sign off, like I am looking forward to receiving your reply. It could also be used in an article or in a review, like imagine you have written a review of a great experience in a restaurant or a hotel, in your conclusion you could say that you are looking forward to going back there to try more of their delicious food.

Ok next up is to cut down on, which means to reduce consumption of something. So everybody has something that they do too much of, like using their mobile phones, eating unhealthy foods, drinking too much coffee, or wine, some people work too many hours, others waste time playing computer games, some people can´t stop spending money on clothes, or maybe new gadgets, the list is endless. So if you have to speak, or write, about any of these things then you can say that you really need to cut down on the amount of whatever that you are doing. This phrasal verb can be used to write about a more serious topic too, like the environment, it is crucial that we cut down on the amount of fossil fuels that we use, or maybe about social media, cutting down on social media use is advisable for our mental health.

The next phrasal verb is to Look into, which means to investigate. This is a really handy one as it can be used in a variety of situations. Like in a report or a proposal you could say the company should look into the causes of the incident, or advising a friend about things to do in your area, you could say There is an amazing scuba diving course you can do over the course of a weekend, you should look into it as I think it´s something you will enjoy. Another place you might use this phrasal verb is if someone asks you about your plans for the future, you could answer well, I´d love to be an astronaut, so it´s something I´m going to look into a bit further before sending my CV to NASA.

Phrasal verb number four is Lead to, if an action leads to something, then it causes it to happen or exist. For instance, wearing sunscreen leads to a reduction in skin cancer. This is one of those phrasal verbs that is fine to use both in a formal situation. You can definitely use this in almost any essay, as well as reports and proposals. Like, were we to increase the number of teachers per student then this would lead to better behaviour in the classroom. (nice inverted conditional there too for all of you grammar junkies!) If you haven´t been using this phrasal verb before then make sure you learn it as it´s very versatile and will lead to more marks for you in the exam.

Ok, next we have Keep up with, which has a couple of meanings, one is to continue to be informed about something. It is common in speaking exams to be asked about keeping up with or keeping up to date with things like the news, technology, fashion, music, etc. I like to keep up with world events by following some journalists on twitter. The second meaning is to try to keep the same speed or pace as somebody or something. Like, you speak too quickly, I can´t keep up with what you are saying, or the company cannot keep up with the demands for it´s products which has led to a shortage.

Phrasal verb number six is Set up, which means to establish or start something. An example is, they set up a company when they left college, or I would like to set up a meeting with the boss to discuss my performance, or we went camping in the mountains and set up our tent in a spectacular valley. This phrasal verb is a favourite in Cambridge exams, in use of English tests, so if you´re doing a Cambridge test make sure you know this one.

Next is to point out, which means to draw attention to something. I have a student, Cristina, from Spain, who always includes the expression “I cannot help but point out” in her essays, every single time. And this is a great way to prepare for an exam, by using the same language over and over, imagine on the day of Cristina´s exam, she’s not going to have to think about what phrasal verbs to use, she just knows automatically that she will be able to use “I cannot help but point out”. I´ll share a tip I used myself when I was preparing for my Spanish exams. Every single day I sat down to study I wrote examples of all of the fancy grammar I wanted to use in the exam, different types of conditionals, reported speech, subjunctives, nice vocabulary, etc. That way when it came to the day of the exam I wasn´t wasting time trying to remember how to form the sentences, it just came naturally. It´s also very comforting for you before the exam that you know that regardless of the exam question they are going to ask you, you know what language you are going to include to impress them. So be like Cristina guys, I cannot help but point out that it´s a super way to prepare for an exam.

The next phrasal verb is to Run out, or run out of, which means to use up a resource until there is none left. For example, we have run out of milk so I am going to go to the shop to get some more. Or I couldn´t finish the reading and use of English test, I ran out of time. Or maybe in a report or proposal you could recommend that a company has sufficient stock to ensure that it doesn´t run out.

While some people may run out of ideas, others find it easy to come up with ideas. And that is our next phrasal verb, come up with, meaning to think of a plan or an idea. This is a really useful one, like it is imperative we come up with a plan to fight global warming, or we came up with a new dish using the leftovers from dinner, or the company is finding it difficult to come up with a new name for it´s brand of toilet paper.

Phrasal verb number nine is to put off, meaning to postpone. This is another one that appears in use of English or grammar exams a lot. It can also be used in a bunch of different scenarios, like I put off going on holidays so I could do my C1 exam, or we cannot put off the launch of the product any longer, or the opening of the new facility should be put off until there are sufficient resources.

And the last phrasal verb in the list is to end up, which means to finally be in a place or a situation. So imagine you are writing a review, we ended up eating 2 desserts each, as they were so delicious, or the film ended up with the couple falling in love and everybody living happily ever after. Or if talking about English, you could say I listened to the Real Exam English podcast and ended up learning loads of phrasal verbs, which lead to me passing my exam, woohoo!

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