Do you share car journeys to offset fuel costs? Tim Bowen weighs up a versatile verb.

The verb to offset is defined as ‘to balance the effects of something, with the result that there is no advantage or disadvantage’. In that sense, it is very similar to the meaning of the phrasal verb cancel out.

It is possible to offset certain terms related to a cost or an amount, such as expenditure, expense, fee, payment or price, as in ‘To offset rising travel costs, many commuters have decided to share car journeys’. 

Words associated with an increase, such as gain, growth or increase itself, can also be offset, as in ‘Increased fuel bills are likely to offset any gains to family income from the small reduction in income tax’.

Likewise, words associated with loss or decrease can also be offset, e.g. decline, deficit, fall, loss, reduction and shortfall, as in ‘To offset the shortfall in revenue from North Sea oil and gas, a new tax might be imposed on reusable energy’.

The effect, benefit or impact of something can also be offset, as in ‘Sports drinks have been specially designed to offset the impact of dehydration’ or ‘Any benefits from the extended healthcare package could be offset by higher taxes’.

It is also possible to offset a risk or risks, as in ‘Red wine may have health benefits that could offset any risks associated with its consumption’.

A number of adverbs can be used with offset, ranging from partially, partly and somewhat to largely¸ completely and fully, as in ‘Increases in the price of holiday packages will largely offset the loss of income caused by falling visitor numbers’.