Can you explain to me why it isn't enough to say "had been dammed", but there is also "up" in the phrase. The text is:

Dr. Howlett turned, straining against his seat belt to talk with Chad and Kate. He had to shout over the engine noise: "Our first stop is right in the middle of a 1976 earthquake area," he said. "I remeber flying over it a few years after the earthquake, and seeing where the vegetation had been stripped from the sides of the mountains, and rivers had been dammed up. To look at it today, you'd never know there had been one of the biggest earthquakes ever in this region."


1 Answer 1


From Merriam-Webster's definition of dam:

1 : to provide or restrain with a barrier that prevents the flow of water : to provide or restrain with a dam …
    // dam a river
2 : to stop up : BLOCK
    // damming up their emotions

Although up doesn't need to follow dam, it often does, and dam up has become a common phrase.

According to Google NGram Viewer, dam on its own is twice as common as dam up in print, but dam up is still used:

had been dammed versus had been dammed up

Verbs are often followed by prepositions even when they don't have to be, because they add to (or emphasize) the mental picture of what's going on.

In this particular case, stop up (which dam is synonymous to) actually requires up to be meaningful in this sense. You would not normally say that the drain is stopped but that the drain is stopped up. If we are used to using stopped up, it's not that strange to also use with dammed up.

Additionally, I suspect that the use of the preposition here helps distinguish between it had been dammed and it had been damned. (Note the spelling.)

The verbs dam and damn are very similar, and are pronounced identically. (Although the past tense versions do have a subtle difference in pronunciation if you're listening for it.) But it would be quite unusual to say it had been damned up. So, if we see the preposition, it's an indicator that it's talking about a blockage rather than a curse. While context is likely to indicate the difference anyway, such an additional cue can't hurt.

  • 1
    To add to this excellent answer, the definition of up includes this: "ENTIRELY, COMPLETELY [...] used as an intensifier." The difference between "the drain is clogged" and "the drain is clogged up" is that the second one emphasizes that the drain is entirely clogged and no water at all can get through. May 30, 2020 at 17:20
  • @CanadianYankee Interesting. I've never heard (or personally assumed) that particular distinction before—in this context anyway. If I heard the drain is clogged I would assume it to mean something identical to the drain is clogged up. To me, up doesn't add anything aside from the mental image or emphasis I suggested. If I meant to express something less than complete, only then would I add partially clogged. Otherwise, I'd assume the clog already was total. May 30, 2020 at 19:43

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