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narrow down: meaning and explanation

The phrasal verb to narrow something down is used to talk about reducing the options or possibilities you have when you’re making a decision. e.g. We’ve managed to narrow down the list to three candidates, but it’s going to be very difficult to make a final choice on which one gets the job.

You can narrow down a list of options by removing the things which are least appropriate or necessary. When you eliminate (or rule out) these options, you’re left with a shortlist with a more manageable number of choices.

Often, this helps to make the decision easier. For example, if you’re an indecisive person then choosing something to eat from a full menu can be very difficult and confusing. Narrowing it down to two or three options will help you to make a final choice.

A related meaning of this phrasal verb is to make the topic of something more focussed and less vague or general. This could apply to research, an investigation, a study, and so on. e.g. In order to make this study as relevant as possible, I’ve decided to narrow down the focus to online customers only.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Dictation #1

Accent: Wales

, .
haven’t come decision on , but we’ve two options.

About the sentence

…We still haven’t come to a final decision…

To come to a decision is a nice alternative to the verb to decide. e.g. You’ve had plenty of time to debate this now, so I’d like you to come to a decision in the next few minutes. 

Dictation #2

Accent: England (RP)

Dictation #3

Accent: North America


Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • Think of a time you had a decision to make, and had too many choices. Were you able to narrow down the options?

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