Currently reading this article, there is a line, says,

The Biden administration is returning to the Pentagon billions in funds diverted by President Donald Trump to build the wall at the southwestern border, and plans to cancel all related construction contracts, an administration official told ABC News on Friday.

"Border wall construction under the previous administration tied up more than $14 billion in taxpayer funds, shortchanged our military, and diverted attention away from genuine security challenges, like human traffickers. Rushed and haphazard wall construction also resulted in serious life, safety, and environmental issues," the official said.

What would the phrasal verb mean?

Macmillan gives several definitions, but none seem applicable.

Sorry I can't copy and paste all these definitions because of their unique character letters.

  • Macmillan has the definition you need at tied up Sense 2
    – James K
    May 1, 2021 at 19:22
  • @JamesK You mean this?? "to make all the arrangements that are necessary for a deal or an agreement to be completed"
    – Kentaro
    May 1, 2021 at 19:52
  • 1
    No, "if your money is tied up in something, it is being used for that thing and you cannot use it for anything else" You have quote sense two at "tie up" not at "tied up".
    – James K
    May 1, 2021 at 19:59
  • @JamesK Thanks. Honestly i can not catch up with English phrasal verbs there are so many definitions and even transitive and passive do not share the same meaning. Anyway, thanks man.
    – Kentaro
    May 1, 2021 at 21:26
  • The transitive and passive do share the meaning. Macmillian has failed to include this meaning in the verb, and only mentioned it in the adjective. Other dictionaries do better.
    – James K
    May 1, 2021 at 22:02

1 Answer 1


It is a figurative use of definition 1b at your link: the money has been restricted and cannot be used for other things. Wiktionary lists this usage as definition 2:

(idiomatic) To occupy, detain, keep busy, or delay.

This usage of "tie up" can describe any resource or asset that has been committed to a project, especially if it would be impossible or impractical to take the resource back and use it somewhere else. So you could talk of money, time, or lumber being "tied up" in the construction of a house, for example.

  • 2
    I agree this is the intended meaning, but I'm not convinced it's a correct use of the expression. Rather, I feel this is sloppy writing. "Tied up" can be used with money, but usually when it is possible - albeit maybe slow or difficult - to get the money back: when the money has been invested somewhere.
    – TypeIA
    May 1, 2021 at 15:27
  • I suppose one could argue a border wall is an investment (and this debate would be strictly off-topic here so let's not go there). In any case, "tied up" does have that implication for me: it refers to invested rather than just spent (or wasted) money.
    – TypeIA
    May 1, 2021 at 15:39
  • 2
    @TypeIA good points and I would agree with them. Note that (for the most part) the money is being recovered/un-diverted and is going back to its original purposes, so I feel the usage is correct. I read the quote as saying: $14 billion was tied up in the border wall but is now being "freed up" for its original projects. (Very little of the wall was actually constructed.)
    – randomhead
    May 1, 2021 at 15:41

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