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For the next two years we lived not just next door to the wild ocean, but to a massive construction site. The house was bad enough, but the ripping up of the trees, the building of roads, the manicuring of once wild lawn was enough to stir something close to rage even in a calm observer.

Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark by Paul Bogard

Is “rip down” also possible here? What is the difference between “rip up” and “rip down”? Their definitons seem similar.

Rip up : to completely destroy (something) by tearing it into pieces (Merriam Webster)

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rip%20up

Rip down:

  1. To dismantle or disassemble a large object or structure.

  2. To demolish a large object or structure. (the free dictionary)

https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/rip+down

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rip up/out/down

There is also rip out. Rip is a violent-type action. Out/in/up goes to the direction of the action being exerted or performed. Ripping up/out/down is the gerund noun. The ripping action is associated with a direction and a place from which it is dislodged.

So, you might have:

The trees were ripped up by the storm. [pulled up by their roots, but it can also be by people with machines]

He was so frustrated he wanted to rip out his hair. [pull his hair out by pulling up on it]

They ripped down the buildings. [pulled the buildings down by exerting a downward force on them with a machine]

The mother ripped the ice cream cone out of her young son's hand because it had fallen on the ground and was all dirty.

He ripped up the paper and threw it away.

That last one is a phrasal verb and does mean to destroy, and is often used about paper or textiles. The others are not strictly speaking phrasal verbs.

The trees were ripped up [from the ground or out of the ground].

  • 2
    "The mother ripped the ice cream one out..." – typo? – userr2684291 Sep 22 at 17:49
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The definition of 'rip up' in the Free Dictionary is incomplete. We generally remove plants growing in the ground by pulling them up. The direction is 'up' because that is the direction of motion. To emphasise the offensive (to the writer) and drastic nature of the operation, we could use 'rip' instead of 'pull'. If the direction of motion at the time of removal is downwards, as for a building, we can say we pull or rip it down. A tree can also be cut or chopped down, by cutting through its trunk so it falls to the ground.

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(The following is all from an American English perspective, specifically California. I think some of the fine distinctions here are subtle, and might depend on dialect.)

"Rip up" primarily means "destroy by tearing", normally only when referring to paper and similar things that can be torn. ("Tear up" is a synonym.) It can also be used metaphorically, usually for the sort of things that might be written on paper, even if there's no actual paper involved. I.e. "I had to rip up all my work and start over," or "If you do that we're going to rip up the agreement."

"Rip up" or "tear up" can also mean "remove by tearing or pulling in an upward direction". For example, one can "rip up" a floor when renovating a house. "Rip out" would generally also be fine for this usage, and is more generic. (I say "generally" because I can't think of any counterexamples, but they may exist.) I would say this is the usage of "rip up" that you're seeing in the book -- one removes the trees by pulling them upwards, out of the ground. The book could just as well have said "rip out", but "rip down" would sound strange.

"Rip out" primarily means "remove by tearing or pulling". For example, one can "rip out" stitches in fabric, or "rip out" pages from a book. ("Tear out" is a synonym.) Usually the part being "ripped out" is not desired, and will be discarded, but not always. (You can rip a piece of paper out of your notebook, because you want to use the paper to write on.) It's less restricted than "rip up" in terms of materials -- for example, you can rip a fixture out of a wall. (But only if it extends into the wall. If it's just attached to the surface, you would say "rip off". See below.) On a larger scale, you can "rip out" walls from a house when renovating. This can also be used metaphorically, for other kinds of removal. For example, you can rip out a section of an agreement.

"Rip down" and "tear down" generally just refer to destroying buildings, or similar large structures. You could tear down a house, or a bridge, or a monument. Ronald Reagan famously asked Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin Wall. ("Tear down" is usually more idiomatic than "rip down". I don't think I've ever heard someone say "rip down", but "tear down" is used all the time.)

You could reasonably also use "rip down" or "tear down" to mean "remove by tearing or pulling in a downward direction", i.e. "let's rip down the ceiling of this room and see what's behind it." But I think most people would say "rip out" or "tear out".

For completeness, "rip off" is a little bit weird compared to the others. You can "rip [something] off the wall" (meaning "remove violently", similarly to "rip out" but referring to removing something from a surface.) But you usually wouldn't "rip off [something] from the wall". When "rip off" is used as a phrase, it's usually an idiom meaning to cheat or steal from someone.

  • rip up, out and down is just English. You can rip up a floor in BrE, as well. Frankly, I think most of your examples are just plain English. Except maybe to rip off as in steal. – Lambie Sep 23 at 13:17

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