I have read a sentence which I have looked up in the dictionary, but I couldn't get the exact meaning.

He went up to Mary's at about 8 o'clock.

How can I understand the phrase "go up to" in this sentence?

I have two explanations for this sentence:

  1. He start to set off for Mary's at 8 o'clock.
  2. He arrived at Mary's at about 8 o'clock.

Which explanation is more appropriate? And why?

  • I can think of a third possible meaning: He was traveling toward Mary's at about 8 o'clock. (If it takes an hour to get to Mary's, he might have left at 7:30 and arrived at 8:30; hence he was going to Mary's around 8.) – J.R. Sep 4 '13 at 9:38
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    Without context it is hard to tell, but with context it should be relatively easy. – Peter Flom Sep 4 '13 at 10:49

The phrasal verb "to go up" has a number of different meanings; I knew which one it had within the context of the sentence but to my surprise, it was difficult to find an online dictionary which listed that precise definition. Thereby, explaining why the OP couldn't "get the exact meaning". Here the expression to go up 5 means to reach a destination (usually by vehicle) that is higher up.

The sentence,

He went up to Mary's at about 8 o'clock.

has a certain ambiguity that without knowing what happened earlier or later in the story could possibly mean three different things.

The first one, the man was already at Mary's house before 8 o'clock. Perhaps he was her husband, boyfriend, brother, or father we don't know. Nevertheless, at about 8 o'clock he went upstairs to Mary's room. Maybe she was unwell and he wanted to check if everything was all right. Again without more information, we cannot know.

The second interpretation, and the most likely, is the following; at around 8 o'clock he drove/travelled up (northward) to Mary's house. If she lived southward or at the bottom of a hill, the sentence would start with: *He went down to Mary's (house)

Finally, from a third and British perspective it could be that Mary lived in a big important city, regardless of its geographical position so, paraphrasing, we end up with "He went up to [London] where Mary lived."

  • I'm not convinced that "to go up" means to reach a destination by vehicle any more than "to go" means to reach a destination by vehicle. But +1 for the rest of your answer. – Matt Sep 10 '13 at 5:55
  • It's interesting how one decides whether to use "go up to" or "go down to" when you don't really know which is appropriate. From home I would say "I'm going down to the office" because it sounds right, not through a conscious calculation of the route. (Although, when I make such a calculation, I note that my office is both South of and downhill from my home!) – Biglig Sep 17 '13 at 10:23
  • @Biglig I think the choice between "up" vs. "down" is mostly dictated by what we hear around us. If we are living outside a large city or town it is quite common to say "I'm going up (or) down town, to get some etc.." because many medieval towns were built either on hills or near river beds, weren't they? I found this page which makes some thoughtful points of observations and just happens to compare English towns to Italian ones. – Mari-Lou A Sep 17 '13 at 18:39

went up to means arrived at. But you could use both in a sentence like this:

I arrived at the hospital yesterday at 7pm and then I went up to John's room.

For the first sentence you could say: He left for Mary's at 8 o'clock.

That means you left wherever you were at 8 and started on a trip to Mary's.

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    I don't view went up to as a phrasal verb here. Up to Mary's is the prepositional phrase which indicates that Mary's [house] is "up" from here- presumably uptown, or up the hill and when he went is the time he left to go to Mary's. – Jim Sep 4 '13 at 5:09
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    I don't agree that "went up to" means "arrived at." If I say, "We went up to Chicago last April," that means that we took a trip to Chicago; it's not really talking about our arrival into the city. – J.R. Sep 4 '13 at 9:41
  • But you also wouldn't say "we went up to Chicago at 8:00." (At least, I wouldn't.) I'd expect "We left for Chicago at 8:00" or "We arrived in Chicago at 8:00". I'm not sure why exactly, but I expect that it's because "going up to" encompasses the entire travel segment, which clearly for a trip to another city should take more than the implied couple-of-minutes. – Hellion Sep 4 '13 at 14:42
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    ...Which I think means that I agree that it doesn't just mean "arrived at", but the arriving is included in its meaning; and the degree of precision in the time given ("8:00" vs "April") may imply something about the length of the journey. – Hellion Sep 4 '13 at 14:44
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    @Hellion: I completely concur, which is why I made my comment. I just think the first sentence of this answer probably deserves a little more thought and elaboration. – J.R. Sep 4 '13 at 19:10

You might be interested to know that "to go up" and "to go down" to a place has unique meaning depending on the sociology of the culture in reference.

For example, when going to a place of high holy reference, you always "go up"; you go up to Jerusalem and go up to the Vatican. It's a reference of respect to "go up" and doesn't necessarily indicate North or South, though it could. For example, if you lived in Colorado you'd say you went up to New York because it is north, and you'd say you went down to Louisiana because it is south.

In your example it could indicate that Mary lived on the North side of town. It could also indicate that she lived in a better side of town. It could also mean that visitor has high regard for Mary. It's a subtlety, but has merit worth mentioning.

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    The information about, for example, going up to Jerusalem is correct. But no native speaker I know would say He went up to Mary's to mean either (a) Mary lived on a better side of town or (b) he had a high regard for Mary. – AmE speaker Jun 8 '17 at 18:50
  • It's an unconscionable thing - think about it the next time you hear someone say they are going up or going down to some place. BTW - downvotes are supposed to be for answers that don't add to the topic. Is there a reason why you feel this post doesn't? – Paurian Jun 8 '17 at 19:38
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    If I lived in Colorado, I might well say "I went out to New York," because it's much more east than it is North, just as I might say, "I went down to Texas," or "I went up to North Dakota." In any event, there's no way to tell who left your downvote, or why it was cast. Perhaps someone agrees with Clare that social status or high regard has little to do with the choice between up or down, or maybe someone noticed that the O.P. seems primarily concerned about arrival and departure times – something you left unaddressed. – J.R. Jun 12 '17 at 18:12

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