The preposition 'up' can be used intransitively:

a. Put your hand up if you know the answer. (toward a higher position)

The prepositional phrase 'up' here functions as complement. It's both syntactically and semantically obligatory.

However, consider these examples from OALD and Macmillan:

  1. Our profits are quite large when you add them up.
  2. She got angry and started smashing things up.
  3. Did you lock the house up before you left?.
  4. The straps are all tangled up together.
  5. He spent the evening wrapping up the Christmas presents.

I'm curious about the use of 'up's here. Unlike the first example, these five 'up's are optional, contributing little extra meaning to the whole sentences.

I think we could just omit these 'up' with the meanings unchanged. However, the real question is not all verbs could be paired with an omissible 'up'. In other cases, 'up' is just part of an idiomatic phrasal verb, as in 'let up', 'own up', etc.

It seems to me that these 'up's could be only paired with certain group of verbs when used in such a way.

Is there a common semantic factor licensing this particular use of 'up'?

  • I think you are confusing telic, a category of lexical aspect or Aktionsart, with perfective, a category of viewpoint aspect. Swap and smash are both telic verbs, implying an ultimate change of state. See our tag-wiki for aspect. Jan 30, 2017 at 13:09
  • @StoneyB Oh, I think I did confuse them. The post you wrote doesn't address how lexical aspect and viewpoint aspect interact. (BTW, it's not a criticism) Could you point to me where my mind gets tangled? This somehow relates to one of my previous Q: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/94995
    – Kinzle B
    Jan 30, 2017 at 13:24
  • ell.stackexchange.com/questions/82365/…
    – TimR
    Jan 30, 2017 at 14:11
  • 1
    The interaction is complex. For instance, statives and activities are inherently imperfective, but in some contexts a simple past or an experiential perfect will recategorize even a stative as perfective. Many telics can be recategorized as activities with an imperfective construction like the progressive or simple present, or with multiple objects. Jan 30, 2017 at 17:57
  • 1
    @KinzleB Finish is ordinarily telic (+TEL) but without duration (-DUR)--it refers only to the final change of state. With is finishing it is still telic--it still implies that it ends in final change of state, but it now has duration. (+TEL,+DUR) is an accomplishment; an activity is (-TEL,+DUR). Feb 20, 2017 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


Up can be added phrasally (adverbially) to a lot of verbs to mean "X completely" or "X totally."

It seems to me that these 'up' could be paired with certain verbs when the activities these verbs represent are expected to be finished soon. In other cases, it could be part of an idiomatic phrasal verb.

It can also mean "towards a state of being ready to use/perform/exhibit", e.g. suit up, gear up, dress up.

So you have this exactly right. Some phrasal verbs like @Michael Curry's example make up, or other ones like work up, shut up, show up have different meanings.

Of course it's possible for an X up verb to have both multiple phrasal meanings - e.g. wrap up can mean wrap completely or have the different meaning to conclude a matter.

  • When I taught phrasal verbs in ESL I always pointed out that this completive sense of intransitive up can work the same as down in certain cases -- the house burned up (completely) / down (to the ground); drink it up (completely) / down (to the stomach). Completive up is often used to emphasize a verb: beat him vs beat him up. Feb 28, 2018 at 3:41

I think you're partially right, but there are other cases in which up is paired with a verb.

The story he told was made up

Means that the story he told was fictional

She was all made up, wearing heels with a beautiful dress

She had a full face of make up on, wearing heels...

She was getting fed up

Means that she was getting annoyed/angry

None of these apply to your theory and are all of different uses.

  • Source updated. And I'm 100% sure it's "up", not "out" that Tony was uttering. I have the movie in my computer.
    – Kinzle B
    Jan 30, 2017 at 12:54
  • All right, just seems like a weird word to be used in that sentence, but as I said, whether it was up or out, either could be omitted and the meaning of the sentence would not change. Jan 30, 2017 at 12:56
  • Could it be a dialect?
    – Kinzle B
    Jan 30, 2017 at 13:03
  • I'm with Michael on this. It sounds like a transcription error to me too, or possibly the character fumbling his lines up.
    – TimR
    Jan 30, 2017 at 13:10
  • It's another question within this bigger one. I just provided a bad example. I think other examples would fit better with what I'm asking here.
    – Kinzle B
    Jan 30, 2017 at 13:28

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