Phrasal verbs: Looking forward or looking for?

They say looks can be deceptive and that goes for the word look too. Combined with a preposition various phrasal verbs can be contructed, read on and learn something new.

A feeling of anticipation or excitement, that something good, big or small, is going to happen; maybe you are going on holiday, or you are planning to meet a friend or family member who you haven’t seen for a long time, or it’s simply Friday and the weekend is coming. This is the perfect time to use the sentence I am looking forward to it. The structure of this sentence is really easy in that you are either looking forward to something, in which case a noun is added, or rather you are looking forward to doing something and here you add a verb in the gerund (‘ing’) form. See the examples below:

  • I am looking forward to the weekend (noun)
  • I am looking forward to my holiday (noun)
  • I am looking forward to seeing my Grandma (verb)
  • I am looking forward to going home (verb)

Relatively simple, yet still a source of confusion for learners of English as a foreign language and that source is probably the word forward [fɔː(r)wə(r)d/], commonly pronounced for-wud by native speakers with boths r’s very light as to be almost inaudible, so it could also be heard as fu-wud. Almost never can we hear for-ward and if you do try and say it phonetically you will see that it is almost impossible without a pause between the r and w. This word is a good example of how English often uses very soft sounds for the letter r. English native speakers will argue that the r is there, whereas some people who speak other languages will find it hard to pick up such a soft r sound.

Forward (literally meaning, to move ahead or in the direction you are facing) is not such a commonly used word in comparison with for and the temptation to say looking for when really meaning looking forward is considerable for some learners, especially when taking into account that looking for is its own widely used phrasal verb.

All of us lose things from time to time, or rather misplace them, using the verb misplace to describe something that we are sure is just temporarily lost, simply put in the wrong place (hence misplaced), lost being more flexible in that it can refer to a temporary loss or a more permanent state. Compare, I have lost my keys, with I lost my mother to cancer, in the second example lost being a synonym for death, the most permanent loss that one could experience.

The point about losing something which you expect or hope to find again is that you must actively do something to find it and in this instance the phrasal verb look for is what we use and again almost always using the gerund (ing) form.

Therefore, I am looking for my keys, means I lost them and now I am actively seeking, trying to find or looking for them. Looking for also has a meaning to search for something which is not actually lost, but rather something that you desire, such as when shopping for a new item of clothing or a specific consumer item. The sentences below give an overview of the phrasal verb looking for:

  • Susan is going to a wedding and she has nothing to wear so she is looking for a new dress.
  • I am looking for my car keys; I can’t remember where I put them.
  • I am looking for wholemeal flour; I suppose I will find it in the health food shop.
  • Peter is looking for his football boots. He hasn’t played for a long time so he doesn’t know where they are.
  • Our flat is too small so we are looking for a house.
  • I am looking for my wife; we lost each other in the crowd after the concert.
  • My son has finished school and now he is looking for a job

Finally, as there are so many phrasal verbs which can frequently lead to confusion let’s briefly consider the often used look after. The addition of the word after in place of for or forward brings a different meaning. We use look after in the case of having responsibility for someone or something usually for a short time so it describes a temporary state. For example, this morning I am looking after my friend’s children while she visits the doctor, or when I go on holiday my neighbour usually looks after my cat.

Most importantly, we should remember this positive phrasal verb looking forward; don’t forget to say the whole word fu-wud, the w is definitely audible so make sure you say it. Let’s be positive and look forward to mastering these phrasal verbs, and when we have done that we can look for some more to learn.

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