13 October 2006

How to make it up to make up for it?

(Spiffy Monica at a year-end party, early 2005)

Phrasal verbs in English are always nightmares to non-native speakers, particularly to those who have just started learning this language.

Having spending years in polishing up my rusty English, I am now advised not to use phrasal verbs in academic writings, for they are less formal, and sometimes even equivocal, and thus not appropriate in serious works. Crikey, how could it happen? I am told to forget about what I have gained from years' hard working.

To name a few, 'examine' is preferred to 'look into', 'capitulate' looks smarter than 'give in', 'convalesce' gives a more precise notion than 'get over', and so forth.

Anyhow, I do miss those days when fellow classmates tried their best to learn as many as possible phrases, or simply 'make up' their own phrases. I still remember a classic example in a cloze test.
John and Mary made __ after the quarrel last night.
Nine out of ten students would guess the missed word to be 'love', notwithstanding that 'up' is in fact the correct answer.

Although 'make up' denotes 'reconcile' here, this phrasal verb may carry different meanings in different contexts. A case in point comes from an amusing conversation with Monica over MSN this morning.

I told her that I started keeping a diary 18 years ago, and have become incurably obsessed about writing something in my diary every day ever since. However, when I go on a binge and can't be asked to do so before collapsing into my berth, I will definitely make up for it first thing in the morning.

While by 'make up' I mean that I will write my diary next morning to 'mend' the inexcusable mistake – falling asleep before the daily task is completed, Monica thought I would 'concoct' a story of the night before.

I shall tell Monica that I will never make up a story about how I tried to make up for a semantic misunderstanding in order to make up with her.

I'm sure this sort of sentence will never appear in my thesis; otherwise the examiners will get cross.

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