Use of the word "keen"

Hi, I was hoping for some feedback on whether “keen” is formal enough to use in TOEFL/IELTS essays. For instance - “I am very keen on my work.” We do not use this word at all here in the US, so I am not really sure what its correct usage is or whether it is even appropriate for an essay.


‘Keen’ in itself is okay to me:
Having or showing eagerness or enthusiasm
keen believers in the monetary system
a keen desire to learn

It is also generally acceptable to combine it with ‘on’ (to be keen on something/someone) but I’m not sure I’d use it in this form in a formal situation such as an exam. I think I would avoid it in favour of a different phrase.

I’ve been taking some IELTS mock tests in the last few days (here ) and I came across this phrase in one of their texts:

However, the artists involved are keen to make clear that the regime also resulted in great leaps forward in the country’s culture, architecture and infrastructure.

Is that really true? I never knew that. I just looked at an American dictionary, though, and none of the senses are marked as British…

Well, we know what it means of course and sometimes it is used as an adjective in a facetious way because it sounds so 1950’s - “boy that swell new dress is peachy keen”. The only time I’ve ever heard “keen to” or “keen on” is in the Harry Potter books - we don’t use snogging either!

I wanted to edit this, because there is one instance where Americans use the word keen often. It is when we are talking about our senses - “keen eyesight”, “a keen sense of smell”. I don’t know why this particular usage remains popular.

Yes, I’d find ‘keen to’ perfectly acceptable in a formal situation. I’m just not so keen on ‘keen on’ :slight_smile:

Hi Luschen,

that’s a pity! I love the word “keen”. I had no idea it is 50’s. Does the same go for “having a keen eye”, “he is keen to learn” and the “keening of the wind”? I’m so familiar with these expressions but I can’t remember where I picked them up.


I hate to be the “American representative”, since this may just be my personal observances. “Having a keen eye” sounds good, because it relates to the senses. “Keen to learn” and “keening in the wind” sound odd to me though. I agree that keen is one of those good Old English sounding words like wicked or knife. I looked up the origins and “keening” as a loud wail has a completely different origin than “keen” as in sharp - interesting. Looking at this dictionary, the first 6 definitions seem more natural to me than #7 and #8:

Yes, keening is something like wailing; I don’t know why it entered my mind. Thank you for the info, Luschen.


In BrE, the “enthusiastic/eager” sense, as in “he’s keen to learn”, is common (probably the most common sense of the word).