Please help me to understand the difference between "leaning up against the wall" and "leaning against the wall".

I found this usage in a short story called "Casting Away" by Alice Munro. Here's the context:

When she entered the Town Hall she always felt he might be there before her, leaning up against the wall awaiting her arrival.

Generally what does "up" change when it is used with other verbs?

  • 1
    I'm not sure I'd use "leaning up against the wall". It doesn't sound quite right. Could you give some context to where it's been used to make it clearer? Feb 20, 2014 at 12:33
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    I'm making this a comment and not an answer because I have no idea how to answer this conceptually, but to me these two things are both fine and mean more or less the same.
    – hunter
    Feb 20, 2014 at 12:45
  • If you want to go into subtleties, some people care about preposition stranding.
    – Phil Frost
    Jul 26, 2014 at 12:11

1 Answer 1


The "up" doesn't go with "leaning" here but with "against".

"Up against" can mean to be firmly pressed against something. It's more commonly used in phrases like "pressed up against" than with a word like "leaning". It can also be used figuratively: to be up against the wall means that you metaphorically have nowhere to go.

up against someone or something
in opposition to someone or something, as in a contest. (*Typically: be ~; come ~; go ~; run ~; team ~.) Let's team up against Paul and Tony in the footrace. We came up against a very strong team.
See also: against, up

up against something
1. Fig. resting firmly against something. (*Typically: be ~; place something ~.) The car is up against the back of the garage! Back out a little!
2. Fig. in conflict with something; facing something as a barrier. (Fig. on {2}. *Typically: be ~; go ~.) I am up against some serious problems.


  • Thank you very much. So it's a literary tweak to depict a more romantic scene.
    – user3214
    Feb 20, 2014 at 12:56
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    In your particular example, I'm not sure there's much difference between the two versions to be honest. It might make it sound slightly more romantic but I'm not sure there's much in it. Feb 20, 2014 at 13:05
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    I suppose you could argue that it might convey a stronger emotion on his part: the reason he's leaning harder on the wall is due to yearning etc. Feb 20, 2014 at 13:06
  • Thank you very much for your detailed and helpful comments and answer.
    – user3214
    Feb 20, 2014 at 13:14

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