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The preposition up has metaphorical uses as a preposition, and in phrasal verbs.

Up: Indicates motion upwards, raising to a higher level, increase, improvement, and such metaphors that come from our experience with upward motion, or filling containers where the contents go up as they increase.



  • We’regoing up to Uijeongbu.
  • We’re going from Heidelberg up to Bavaria.
  • Let’s do ten pull-ups.

With up you can view the action from the top level, where something is coming up toward you. You can also look at the action from the bottom of the container, and speak of something going up from that vantage point. From point A, you can speak of something ‘sneaking up’ on you by surprise, or events that ‘come up’ unexpectedly. From point B, you can speak of something growing or rising, such as water boiling up. You can speak of processes growing or finishing, such as ‘finish up, wrap up.’ Just as liquid can boil up and over a container, you can speak of things that metaphorically go somewhere, or go too far, like when you say “I'm fed up” or “what's up?”

Thus, the possible meanings of up, like other prepositional or phrasal verb elements, can fall along a range of semantic possibilities:

  1. Spatial (S): Movement or location from a lower to a higher reference point
  2. Temporal (T): Completion
  3. Metaphorical (M): Appearance, coming into view; increase, growth, improvement; degree of action

Some uses are spatial, but with an added nuance of manner (type of position or motion), which seem quasi-metaphorical, e.g., to come up; these spatial/manner uses are designated as SM.

  meaning / nuance examples
1. Upward motion, going up (S)
(e.g., away from the observer; from the perspective of the lower reference point, upwards)
We are going up the mountain.
1a. increase in amount or degree (M) The prices have gone up.
Let's speed up. Hurry up!
Turn up the volume.
Speak up – we can’t hear you.

I’m storing up a bunch of wine in my cellar.
The work is just piling up.
Try stacking up the boxes in a neat column.
Let’s save up some money to buy a new tablet.
The bread rose up rather quickly – maybe you put too much yeast in it.
My rash has flared up again, and the area around it is swelling up.
We worked up a good sweat from climbing the mountain.

1b. Improvement, enhancement (M) Last year I was unemployed, but the bad job marked has picked up. Now I have a job and things are looking up, and my mood has brightened up.

The storm clouds are clearing up, so we can go outside now.
Let’s dress up more formal for work today.
The PPT is boring – let’s jazz it up with a bunch of transition effects.
I’m trying to brush up on my Spanish that I forgot after college.

1c. Superiority (M) One-upmanship
1d. Support, protection (M) Always back up your data.

I always speak up / stick up for those who are being bullied.

2. Completion of action (T/SM) I'll wait up to 20 minutes before leaving.
2b. Extent or degree of action (M) Oh, shut up! I’m fed up with your nonsense.

Wake up!
Drink it all up.
The lake has all dried up.

2c. Excessive degree or amount (M)

I’m fed up with your nonsense.

2d. Completion, result (M) I’d like to follow up with another question before you sum up your presentation – though this may end up making the discussion too long and using up your time.
2e. Cutting, dividing, e.g., as end result or full result of cutting action
(and hence, stronger or more emphatic) (M)
Chop / cut up all the lettuce, and slice up the onions.

We’ll slice up / cut up / divide up the pizza, and divide up / break up the garlic bread.
We aren’t dating – we split up / broke up.

3. Appearance, coming into view (M)
(coming up toward observer; approaching / reaching)
They came up to Chicago to see us.
3a. Appearance, happening; esp. sudden or unexpected appearance or event (M) Look who’s turned up.
More problems have cropped up.

Look at what turned up in our garden – a rabbit.
I’d like to bring up another question.
Problems kept cropping up / popping up.
Something else came up, and I have to cancel our previous appointment.
I’m afraid the deadline crept up on us and our report was late.
The lion steals up on its prey before pouncing on it.

3b. Approaching, coming toward, coming together (SM, M) Someone came up to me to hit me up for some money. (hit up=slang)

Pull up a chair.
The car pulled up slowly to the house.

3c. Bringing together, closing (SM) Would you do my dress up? Would you zip up my dress?
Please lace up your shoes.

Bag up the onions.
Bandage up your wound before you handle the food.
Don’t forget to chain / tie up the tiger so he doesn’t escape.
The old cellar was bricked up, so we couldn’t get in.

3d. Coming / bringing together, e.g., meeting (M) Let’s team up and work together.
We’ll match / pair you up with a good partner.

Let’s meet up sometime for coffee.

3e. Coming / bringing close together, e.g., comfort (M) The baby is snuggled up / nuzzled up in his blanket.
The girl is curled up in fetal position.
4. Creating, making (M)
(from the idea of appearing, coming into view)
Studies show that 34% of all statistics are simply made up.

They thought up / dreamed up / came up with an innovative set of plans.
They are attempting to put up a new skyscraper in the business district.
We’ll draw up a new contract.