Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Never use three words when one will do.

How often have you seen the phrase, "came up with"? For example, we "came up with" a new strategy. If you pay attention to your writing and the writing of others, you will see this kind of construction often. It is called a "phrasal," a verb with an adverb attached to it.

You will never have to remember that word, phrasal, unless you get a shot at "Jeopardy." "I'll take English grammar for $100, Alex." So, don't memorize it, but remember the notion. You don't have to use three words when one will do. In the case of "came up with," we prefer "we DEVELOPED a new strategy" or "we CREATED a new strategy" or "PROPOSED a new strategy."

That said, phrasals perform a useful function in idiomatic writing, when the adverb modifies the verb. Take the verb "run" and the many adverbs that attach themselves to it. Some one can run away. Or, you can run into a long lost friend. Or, God forbid, you might run over that friend. If you watch your language, you'll quickly get the run down on run!

Or, consider the mighty midget, "up." For one of the smallest words in the English language, it may just have the longest definition in the dictionary. It has so many uses thanks to its remora-like attachment to a host of verbs. For example, you might fix up an old engine and have it take up lots of space in the garage, or work up a thirst before opening up a can of brew, while you size up the situation. You might just give up, go into the house and dress up for the mechanics ball, if you are up to it, you might wind up with a great date.

Or, if you decide to be less idiomatic, you might repair an old engine and have it occupy a lot of space while you open a beer and review the situation before quitting to shower, shave and prepare for the ball (I was greatly tempted to say "spruce up"). And, if all goes well (a phrasal?), and you persevere, you may get lucky! All because you came to the point and used one word instead of three!


  1. I had to laugh today when after dinner I told my son to "clean the table up". I read your post earlier and your advise must have stuck in my head. Great blog.

  2. I hear you! I still say, "I need to redd up the house"!