Business Writing Tip #162—Phrasal Verbs (Part 3)

Again, as promised in my last post, here are some more useful phrasal verbs. This is the third, and final, post in this series.

Phrasal Verb Definition Example
To hand (something) out To distribute I’ll handout a copy of the presentation during the meeting.
To hang on To wait a short time Hang on a second. I’ll be right there.
To keep (something) up To continue We need to keep up our efforts to boost the sales figures.
To let (someone) down To disappoint The suppliers let us down by not delivering the agreed quantities.
To look into To investigate A team has been set up to look into the declining sales figures.
To look out for To be careful and take notice Given our recent drop in sales, we need to look out for new opportunities in the market.
To pass (something) out To distribute ( see also to hand something out) I’ll pass out a copy of the presentation after the meeting.
To pass (something) up To decline (usually something positive) Don’t pass up on this great opportunity. The sale ends tomorrow.
To put (something) off To postpone The company has put off introducing the revised pricing structure until the next quarter.
To run into (someone/something) To meet someone/something unexpectedly I hope we don’t run into any problems with the project schedule.
To send (something) back To return The new equipment isn’t working correctly. We’ll have to send it back.
To set (something) up To organise, to arrange Please set up a conference call with the Polish office to discuss the quarterly sales figures.
To shop around To compare prices The company needs to shop around to make sure that it gets the best possible deal on the new printers.
To sort (something) out To resolve a problem This report isn’t clear. We need to get together and sort out exactly what we want it to say.
To take (something) back To return an item If the customer is not happy with the printer performance, we need to take it back and offer them an alternative.
To think (something) over To consider I’d like you to think over the various options and we’ll make a decision at tomorrow’s meeting.
To turn (something) down To reject, to refuse We presented the agreed position at the negotiations, but the other side turned them down.
To try (something) out To test We will be installing the new printers and trying them out over the next couple of days.
To use (something) up To finish the supply We’ve used up our annual training budget, so we need to be creative about how we fund training over the next two months.

That’s it for phrasal verbs for now. They are often used in emails between colleagues, or with customers with whom we have a strong relationship, to avoid being overly formal when we write.

Trying out life in Australia again after living abroad

Trying out life in Australia again after living abroad

Happy writing.



Business Writing Tip #161—Phrasal Verbs (Part 2)

When this sulphur-crested cockatoo arrived, the other birds gave in and flew away.

When this sulphur-crested cockatoo arrived, the other birds gave in and flew away.

In my last post I promised you some more useful phrasal verbs.

So let’s jump right in.

Phrasal Verb Definition Example
To call (something) off To cancel Management has called off today’s meeting because three people are off sick.
To end up To eventually reach, do or decide We’ll probably end up having the meeting the day after tomorrow.
To figure (something) out To understand, to find the answer We’ll figure out what to do when we get the final sales figures.
To find out To discover Can you try and find out why our sales fell last month?
To get (something) back To receive something that you had before We need to get our team back to full strength, so we have made the recruitment action a top priority.
To give in To reluctantly stop arguing The other side weren’t entirely happy with the negotiation, but when they realized the strength of our position, they had no choice but to give in.
To give up To stop trying The prototype isn’t working correctly, but I don’t want us to give up on it.
To go after To follow someone The CEO will speak first at the meeting. The Head of Marketing will go after her.
To go after To try to achieve something We need to go after increased sales this quarter if we are going to meet the annual targets.
To go over To review Could you please go over these sales figures and provide a summary for the meeting tomorrow?
To hand (something) in To submit We’ve asked the client to hand in their quarterly projections by tomorrow.

I’ll give you some more examples in my next post.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #160—Phrasal Verbs

IMG_2319Phrasal verbs are a useful aspect of English which help us with the register of our writing. If we are writing something very formal, for example a report, we probably wouldn’t use them. But if we want to write an email to a long-standing customer who we have known for some years, the verbs we would usually use when we write at work might seem too formal. We might accidentally offend our client who could be wondering, “Why are they being so distant with me?” Phrasal verbs work perfectly in this kind of situation.

First, a definition. Michael McCarthy and Felicity O’Dell give the following definition in English Phrasal Verbs in Use: Advanced.

“Phrasal verbs are verbs that consist of a verb and a particle (a preposition or adverb) or a verb and two particles (an adverb and a preposition, as in get on with or look forward to).”

Maybe this made everything clear to you, or maybe it didn’t. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you know that you can make your writing less formal by using phrasal verbs.

Here’s a list of some phrasal verbs that are useful in business English.

Phrasal Verb Definition Example
To ask around To ask many people the same question Could you ask around the office and see if there’s someone available to work this weekend?
To back someone up To support Thanks for backing me up when I presented the proposal.
To not care for To not like I don’t care for the proposed office layout. Let’s see if there’s a better way.
To chip in To help If everyone chips in, it’ll only take about half an hour.
To cut back on To consume less, to reduce It looks as though we’re heading for an overspend. We need to cut back on some of our expenses.
To do something over To do again I thought my report was safe, but my computer crashed and the hard drive is fried. I need to do it over.
To drop by To visit without an appointment I’ll be over your side of town tomorrow afternoon. Is it okay if I drop by?
To drop someone/something off To take something/someone somewhere My car’s broken down. Can you drop me off at the station after work?


I’ll give you some more examples in my next post.

Happy writing.

About the photo: This photo is a detail on the interior walls of the Czech National Technical Library.

Business Writing Tip #136—Who or Whom?


Before I start talking about who and whom, I want to talk about pronouns. Way back in Business Writing Tip #23 I wrote:

Pronouns seem to confuse people but they’re really not difficult. The form of the pronoun that you need to use depends on whether it is a subject or object in the sentence.

  1. If it’s a subject, it performs the action – Use I, he, she, they , we, who
  2. If it’s an object, it receives the action – Use me, him, her, them, us, whom

Subjects and Objects

Do you remember what subjects and objects are? The subject is the person or thing that is doing something.

I am writing this blog. ‘I’ is the subject. ‘I’ am the person who is performing the action of writing.

He ran as fast as he could, but still missed the train. ‘He’ is the subject. ‘He’ is the person who is performing the action of running.

Objects are the person or thing having something done to him/her/it.

I patted the dog. ‘The dog’ is the object. It is the thing that I, the subject, am patting.

He is writing the report. ‘The report’ is the object. It is the report that he, the subject, is performing the action of writing.

Who and Whom

Now when it comes to who and whom, who is the subject pronoun and whom is the object pronoun.

If you want to know the name of the person writing the report, you would ask, “Who is writing the report?” because you want to know the subject, the person who is performing the action.Who or whom

If you want to know the name of the person or people that were invited to the meeting, you would ask, “Whom did you invite to the meeting?” because you want to know the object. The subject is you – you invited the people to the meeting.

A Quick Trick

Now I’ll give you a quick way to work out which word to use.

Look at that example again:

You invited the people to the meeting. Maybe you invited Bob to the meeting. If I replace Bob with a pronoun I would say, “You invited him to the meeting.” Maybe you invited Christine to the meeting. I know it’s now the correct pronoun (it would be ‘her’ but, inconveniently, that doesn’t work as a memory trick because it doesn’t finish with the letter ‘m’). So just pretend Christine is a man. You invited HIM.

When the pronoun is ‘him’, the question is ‘whom’?  ‘Whom did you invite to the meeting?’ ‘I invited him.’

We also use ‘whom’ after prepositions. A couple of examples:

  • To whom was he speaking?
  • About whom were they talking?
  • For whom did you buy the ring?

When it comes to Bob going to the station to catch the train, if I want to replace Bob with a pronoun I would say, ‘He went to station to catch the train.’ In this case, the question would be ‘Who went to the station to catch the train?’ Bob is performing the action.

So, if you can’t remember that you use “whom” when you are referring to the object of the sentence, just remember that if you can replace the word with “him“, then you use “whom.”

It’s really not so difficult. Then again, English is changing and some people never use the word ‘whom’. Its use is more common in US English than in UK English. As always, if you’re writing a formal document, it’s best to try and use it correctly.

Happy writing.

Who or whom

Business Writing Tip #115—Arranging Meetings by Email

Have you ever received an email asking you to attend a meeting, but it didn’t provide all the information? It’s frustrating, and involves extra work for everyone as you check and ask for the missing data.libensky chateau 2

Remember to always include:

  • Time and date
  • Location/venue
  • What the meeting is about, and preferably an agenda
  • What they should do if they can’t attend
  • And remember to ask for anything you need your email recipient to do

When it comes to emails we again have formal and informal language we use for different functions. Here are some sentences to help you out.

Language functionFormalInformal
InvitationWe would be very pleased if you could come to ...I’m writing to invite you to ...
I would like to invite you to ...Would you like to come to ...?
I would like to invite you to attend our ...Please let me know if you can make it.
Please let me know if you will be able to attend.
PreparationBefore the meeting, it would be useful if you could prepare ...Please prepare ... before the meeting.
It would be helpful if you could bring ...Please bring ... to the meeting.
Accepting the invitationThank you for your kind invitation.Thanks a lot for the invitation.
The date that you suggested is fine.The date’s fine with me.
I would be delighted to attend the ... meeting. I am sure it will be very useful.I’d love to come to the meeting. It sounds like a great idea.
Refusing to attendThank you for your kind invitation. Unfortunately, I have another appointment on that day. Thanks a lot for your kind invitation.
Please accept my apologies.Unfortunately, I have something else scheduled on that day.
I hope we will have an opportunity to meet on another occasion soon. I am sure that the meeting will be a great success.I hope we can meet up soon.
Good luck with the meeting.

(If you’re interested, today’s photo is of Libensky Chateau in Prague. The venue for your next meeting perhaps?)

Business Writing Tip #110—Language to Use in Emails

In emails we use less formal language than we use in business letters. We know that we are busy, and we are fairly certain the business people we are writing to are busy too. So we keep our language clear, simple, direct. In emails it is fine to use contractions (I’m for I am, etc.) and we use more personal language.

When we are emailing friends our language is even more informal. We write in a way that is close to how we would talk to them.

Here is a list of different ways that you can say things in emails, both formal and neutral/formal (adapted from Email English by Paul Emmerson).

What do you need?Please let us know your requirements.
Thanks for the email of 12 Feb.Thank you for your email received 12 February.
Sorry, I can't make it.I am afraid I will not be able to attend.
I'm sorry to tell you that ...We regret to advise you that ...
I promise ...I can assure you that ...
Could you ...?I was wondering if you could ...
You haven't ...We note from our records that you have not ....
Don't forget ...We would like to remind you that ...
I need to ...It is necessary for me to ...
Shall I ...? Would you like me to ...?
But.../Also.../So...However .../In addition .../Therefore ...
Please could you ...I would be grateful if you could ...
I'm sorry for ...Please accept our apologies for ...
Re ...With regard to ... (With reference to ...)
See you next week.I look forward to meeting you next week.

Now you have some words to use; but what about how to structure the email? I was at a conference yesterday where one of the speakers, Rachel Appleby, recited a poem that she uses to help people:

Something old,

Something new,

What to do,

I love you.

Now of course we don’t write ‘I love you’ in our business emails, but this serves to remind us to include a warm closing greeting, such as ‘Kind regards’.

So we might write to a colleague (informal style):


Thanks for the email you sent me yesterday about the missing stock. (Something old.) I’ve looked into it and am happy to tell you that we’ve found it and will forward it to you. You should get it tomorrow. (Something new.)

Please let me know if it doesn’t arrive. (What to do.)

Sorry about the hassle.

Kind regards, (I love you)



If we’re writing to a customer it might be:

Dear Ms Johnson,

Thank you for your email of 14 March about your order not having arrived. (Old.) We have checked our records and have discovered that, unfortunately, it missed the cut-off for that day’s delivery. We immediately dispatched the package and it should arrive by tomorrow. (New.)

Please contact me if it does not arrive (What to do.) and I will arrange for a replacement to be sent to you by courier.

I apologise for the inconvenience.

Best regards, (I love you.)

David Ambrose

Delivery Executive, XYZ Company.

Ph: 555 237 8054