Come on, carry on: Phrasal verb use in undergraduate writing at a South African university

Keywords: phrasal verb, avoidance, proficiency, English second-language learner, first-language learner, multi-word verb, corpus-based study


The phrasal verb plays an important role in the attainment of English proficiency. However, it has been recognised as problematic for learners of English worldwide for various reasons, with the result that learners tend to employ avoidance strategies when confronted with the phrasal verb. Use of the phrasal verb (PV) has not been researched to any great extent in the South African environment, a limitation that this study seeks to address. Using a corpus of undergraduate writing, PV use by South African first- and second-language speakers of English is investigated and reported on. The results differ from previous research in finding that second-language speakers are most likely to use phrasal verbs in their first year of undergraduate study, and that this tendency tapers off as their studies progress. First-language students show a similar but less marked pattern of PV use. The results also indicate a preference for one-word alternative verbs by both groups, which again contrasts with research conducted elsewhere, which found that first-language students displayed a preference for PV use over one-word alternative verbs. It is suggested that further research is required to verify these results.


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Author Biographies

Susan Immelman, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Susan Immelman is a doctoral student at the University of Pretoria. Before retiring, she was a lecturer in Academic Literacy in the Extended Programmes at the Mamelodi campus of the University of Pretoria. Her research interest is in patterns of English used by second-language speakers of English in South Africa.

Trish Cooper, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Dr Trish Cooper is a senior lecturer within the Unit for Academic Literacy, as well as Director of the Centre for Language Learning. She obtained her doctorate in Linguistics following a longitudinal study of lexical bundles in student writing. Her primary research interest is language teaching and learning, and how best to promote language proficiency in the academic context.

How to Cite
Immelman, S., & Cooper, P. A. (2023). Come on, carry on: Phrasal verb use in undergraduate writing at a South African university. Journal for Language Teaching , 57(1), 1-26.