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I have always been confused about the use of above and up. Lets say I in grocery store and I am supposed to describe the position of X in a high rack.

Should I say "It is 3 shelves up and in the back/front (of that shelf)." or "It is 5 shelves above and in the front."?

Can anyone please explain to me which is correct and why?

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I think you could say

It is 3 rows up and in the back/front.

although there should be some reference as to up from where, unless you are looking at that row. You could say

It is 3 rows up from the middle shelf, and in the back/front.

In the case of

It is 5 rows above and in the front.

you have to specify above what. In this case you would not use above by itself. You could say

It is 5 rows above the vanilla ice cream and in the front.

Also, in a grocery store, it is more likely to say shelves rather than rows.

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The two could imply the same thing, but may not be used the way you have them in your examples. Up implies direction as in "up and down". So your first example implies that you go to the back/front of the store, then three rows up(side) and you will find the item you are looking for. The second one seems ungrammatical as is. You need something after above. It's five rows above the red line... Or something. You can use above all by itself in a different context for example:

Read the text above. Here the text is already mentioned and the user knows about it

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