Tim Bowen might have to fend off hordes of fans after brilliantly explaining the use of three phrasal verbs to do with self-defence.

The three phrasal verbs fend off, ward off and stave off all have the meaning of defending yourself against an attack or preventing something bad happening to you.

Fend off and ward off can both be used in the context of a physical attack, as in 'She used a chair to fend off her attacker', 'His opponent jumped back and tried to fend off the blows' and 'He saw the blow coming and raised his arm to ward it off'.

Fend off can also be used to mean to protect yourself from criticism or a difficulty, especially by ignoring it or not dealing directly with it, as in 'So far, he has managed to fend off criticism of his policies', where fend off is more or less a synonym for deflect.

Ward off also means to prevent something coming near to you or affecting you, e.g. 'The herb can be used to ward off biting insects' and 'Doubt has been expressed about the wisdom of using anti-flu drugs to ward off swine flu’.

Stave off means to stop something bad or negative happening, as in ‘The European Union is hoping to stave off a trade war with the US’, or to stop something bad from affecting you, especially hunger, thirst and disease, e.g. ‘They ate grass and berries to stave off their hunger’, ‘To stave off his thirst, he was forced to drink water from puddles' and ‘A natural supplement made from tomatoes can help stave off heart disease and strokes’. Ward off could also be used in the last example.