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It is standard English to write:

He ran up a phone bill.
He ran up a debt.

So, a bill and a debt could be used with the phrase "run up".
Would it okay to write:

He ran up a charge.
He ran up an expense.

, using "charge" and "expense" as objects for "run up"?

EDIT: a little bit of rewrite.

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    I'm not clear exactly what you're asking. The first two aren't really "in the same spirit" themselves. You can switch to He ran up a huge debt, but not He ran up a lot of phone bill. And unlike "phone bill", if you want to use "huge" in conjunction with "expenses", you must discard the indefinite article He ran up huge expenses. This does look rather like just a request for us to proofread your third example. Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 11:53
  • @FumbleFingers I rewrote the question slightly.
    – meatie
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 8:36

3 Answers 3

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To me, the phrase "run up" implies a number of different charges; you run up a phone bill by making many expensive calls, or a debt by making a number of charges to your credit card.

For that reason, I don't think "a charge" or "an expense" are valid objects.

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  • I think you could just about say "I stayed at the Hilton last night and ran up quite a charge on my company credit card", but it would be stretching the usage a bit. For me personally, singular an expense doesn't really work in any context (my expenses are composed of multiple expense items). Whatever - overall I think this answer represents sound advice. Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 12:28
  • You're quite right; in that example, "a charge" is the cumulation of a number of different expenses, so it matches the pattern. Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 18:38
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"Run up" means accumulating over time, and usually involves many small transactions building into an (often unexpected) larger amount.

So you couldn't really "run up" a bill in a McDonald's (because you order and pay for everything together) but you could "run up" a mobile phone bill over the course of a month.

A 'charge' or an 'expense' are single items so you wouldn't use "run up" with them.

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  • But, if "charges" are considered as a whole and "expenses" are also considered as a whole would "He ran up charges" and "He ran up expenses" be acceptable?
    – meatie
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 9:38
  • @meatie Yes, both OK. There are also cases where "charge" (singular) could be OK, where it refers to a single payment for multiple items: "Over the month, I ran up a huge charge for internet access on my mobile phone" but charge is more often used as a single one-off payment: "The charge for parking here is £2.50"
    – Roddy
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 10:12
  • I think it's idiomatically quite natural to run up a restaurant (or supermarket) bill, since such bills are accumulated from multiple sub-items. Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 12:18
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First, you need to say "too many expenses", not "too much expenses". Then

He ran up too many expenses.

I think it is OK but it sounds a bit odd. But if you think of it as running up the phone bill and the electric bill and the water bill (the expenses) then it makes sense.

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  • How about "He ran up a lot of expenses."?
    – meatie
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 5:36

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