I had a task on an English exam to match phrasal verbs with their definitions. I matched:

"look up a word" - "search"
"look for the clues" - "try to find something"

but according to my teacher, it should've been matched the other way around. I think the way I matched them is not wrong, especally because it's phrased that way in many online dictionaries. Not to mention that the definition of search is to try to find something so it makes even less sense.

My mark depends on this so I would like to know if my teacher is wrong about the answer and also what is the correct answer. Thanks.

  • 2
    As with many exam questions posted on here, there is no "right" and "wrong", just shades of "what one person thinks". "Search" and "try to find" mean the same thing, so it's a bit of a stupid question. Personally I'd be happy with "search" for either. A better question would have been to match "look up / look for" with "a word / the clues". – AndyT Oct 9 '18 at 14:29
  • It would help if you posted the word-for-word literal text of the question. Even that may not be enough, unfortunately: this is all in the context of your class, and we don't know what the teacher had been saying in the lectures. Perhaps in one of the lectures, he or she introduced some convention that applies to this question. Having said all that, I agree with AndyT and Peter Shor that, a priori, this looks like a badly posed question. – linguisticturn Oct 9 '18 at 15:07

There is a difference between look up and look for.

The phrasal verb look up means to find in some kind of authoritative reference, like a dictionary or encyclopedia.

The phrasal verb look for means to try to find something, but not necessarily in an authoritative reference.

The problem is that I don't see any significant difference in meaning between search and try to find, so I would have to say that both pairings are correct.

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