In the following text, I need a formal language. Is "steer clear of" appropriately used with an awareness of style?

Nature make a favourable impression on people. However, some people have an allergic reaction to flora and fauna and have to steer clear of it.

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    Nature makes Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 12:01
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    I would say it's a bad metaphor, unless the flora is algae and the fauna is fish.
    – Stef
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 15:36
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    Yeah, it suggests that some people have an allergic reaction to all flora and fauna.
    – phuzi
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 15:39
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    As one answer notes, it depends on context. What's the context? "Formal" means different things in different contexts. For example, "business-speak" could be considered formal, but is full of slang and buzzwords. (Apologies if there's an established convention for what the formal tag means.) Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 17:59
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    Not what you've asked about, but I'll say that "allergic reaction" and ".... have to ...." feel like phrases that aren't literally true, and so it sound like you are using dramatic exaggeration here. That's okay if that's the writing style you choose, but it makes me confused as to why you need to use formal language. Usually, formal goes with a strict literal use of language, and dramatic exaggeration goes with looser language. So I'm confused about what tone you want to use, and that makes your writing less clear, and makes it harder for us to advise you.
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 21:54

3 Answers 3


According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "steer clear of" is neither informal or formal: it's just a normal expression. The register is therefore appropriate for any situation.

It is not, however, a literal meaning: it is a metaphor for steering a boat, for example to avoid a storm. Metaphorical expressions are usually a plus in literary writing, but it might be worthwhile to consider a more literal wording in an academic context, or if the intended audience includes non-native speakers.

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    "Metaphorical expressions are usually a plus in literary writing" And here you're in disagreement with George Orwell, who specifically advises to steer clear of these overused metaphors.
    – Stef
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 15:41
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    @stef Yes he did, and i think that was very poor advice. He had in mind a situation where there were only a few overused idioms, most of which evoked an older state of things. he disappoved of. He apparently did not notice or ignored that "idiom" is not the same as "cliche". Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 19:51
  • @Stef His advice was to steer clear of metaphors "which" [sic; "that" would be preferable] you are used to seeing in print. In the link you give, he specifically criticizes stale metaphors. He also complains that "In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active", which is a bit hypocritical. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 6:24

It's difficult to say with little context if "steer clear" is used properly in regard to formality. If this is an academic paper, however, as this sounds as if it could be, I suggest continuing below.

More formal-sounding alternatives:

The meaning of "to steer clear" means

To avoid (someone or something).

I would tell you that "avoid" (as used in the meaning above) or "keep their distance from" are good alternatives to "steer clear" if you want to improve the formality of the phrase.


"have to" and "steer clear" read as less formal to me. Also, the sentence sounds like they're allergic to all plants and animals. Try instead,

"Nature makes a favourable impression on people. However, some people must avoid certain flora and fauna due to allergic reactions"

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