I know the meaning of the phrase verb set up in this context. But what does set and up mean separately here? In other word, I want to figure out the inner logic of this phrase. It would be great to show me the corresponding explanations in a dictionary, thanks in advance.

  • 2
    Few such phrases can be taken apart to discover their inner logic. They are more likely just to come to pieces. Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:24
  • Are you sure you heard that correctly? The usual phrase would be "The spectators sent up a howl ..." Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:36
  • 2
    @Peter Jennings This is an example sentence in my dictionary. You can find it in this web: 6. transitive verb produce loud sound: .... Another use case is in Animal Farm Chapter II: But at this moment the three cows, who had seemed uneasy for some time past, set up a loud lowing.
    – preachers
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:42
  • 1
    @Kate Bunting Well, I know the meaning of the whole phrase. I want to know the meaning of set and up separately in this phrase, thanks.
    – preachers
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:55
  • 4
    You just have to accept that it's a phrasal verb. I suppose the original meaning of build, put in place extended to mean start [something] going. Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:57

2 Answers 2


Set up X is an example of a phrasal verb.

The spectators SET UP a howl of protest

This is a not-too-common meaning of set up as described here: "begin making a loud sound."

Etymonline.com shows that the etymology of this word is all over the place - root words had meanings related to sit, meanings related to sect, and pertinent to this example: a meaning related to "cause/make to do".

Modern use of set is all over the place too.

As far as why up - while there's a logical connection between base and particle for many phrasal verbs, there isn't for all of them - e.g. what does the out in carry out--in the sense of "perform orders"--mean? Why is the word come used in the phrasal verb come apart, when come means subject and a target move closer together? Why does make up X mean to create a fake X?

Logic only takes you so far with English, there's numerous dead ends.


When up is used in a phrasal verb, it usually carries one of these basic meanings:

  • completion (finish up, eat up, write up, wrap up);
  • upward movement (pick up, lift up);
  • upright position, maintaining or strengthening it (prop up, shore up);
  • increase, improvement (pep up, jazz up)

In your sentence, it has a meaning of completion. They arranged it, and they started it.

  • Thanks for your answer and what does set mean?
    – preachers
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:46
  • 2
    Up phrases also have a tendency to lower the tone, as in shut and ....... No, better I leave it there. Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:47
  • @preachers I think "set" here means "arrange, prepare", and then "up" completes/starts it (what was prepared) Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 12:10
  • "Set up" in this context suggests starting rather than finishing. Although I guess you can finish starting something.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 16:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .