This list of 20 common phrasal verbs using “up” will help you sound more natural and fluent in English.

Phrasal verbs are informal expressions that use two words to create a new verb; they are made up of either a verb + a particle or a verb + a preposition.  Even advanced learners of English can struggle with phrasal verbs because you can’t figure out their meaning by the individual words; you have to just memorize them.

  1. Act up: to behave badly or to cause someone pain.
    • My daughter’s teacher called me today because she was acting up in class.  
    • My bad knee is really acting up today; I can barely walk!
  2. Back up: to reverse, to support or be supported by, or to make a copy of.
    • When I was backing up the car, I ran into the mail box.
    • The data from the experiment backs up my hypothesis.  
    • Don’t forget to back up your computer files.  
  3. Bang up: to be injured, bruised, dented.
    • Our car was really banged up after the accident. 
  4. Beat up: to assault.
    • They beat him up really badly after they stole his phone.
  5. Blow up: to explode, can be used figuratively or literally.
    • The bomb blew up the entire building.  
    • I was so angry that I blew up at my husband.  
    • My phone is blowing up with all of these text messages. 
  6. Break up: to end a relationship, to stop a fight.
    • My boyfriend and I broke up last night and I can’t stop crying.  
    • The cops had to break up a fight at the soccer game yesterday.
  7. Bring up: to mention.
    • Why do you always have to bring up your mother when we fight?
  8. Brush up: to practice or improve a skill that you already know.  I
    • I need to brush up on my Spanish before I travel to South America this summer.  
  9. Build up: to build, to grow, to make larger.
    • Horror movies are really good at building up suspense.  
    • My hometown has really been built up over the last decade.
    • When people compliment me on my Portuguese pronunciation, it really helps to build up my confidence.
  10. Catch up: to go faster so you meet up with someone or something in front of you, to improve so that you are at the same level or rate as someone else, to talk to someone that you haven’t talked to for a while.
    • Usain Bolt is so fast that no one has a chance of catching up with him.  
    • My son has to go to summer school for math so he can catch up with the rest of his classmates.
    • My friend and I caught up over drinks last night. 
  11. Caught up in: to become so involved in something that you don’t notice other things, to become involved in something by accident.
    • I got so caught up in my work project that I forgot to each lunch.  
    • He was just an innocent bystander, but he got caught up in police raids in his apartment building.  
  12. Cheer up: to make someone happy/improve their mood or to become happy/to be in a better mood.
    • My best friend sent me cupcakes to cheer me up. 
  13. Clean up: to clean (it often has a connotation of putting things away instead of just cleaning).
    • I told my daughter that if she didn’t clean up her room she wouldn’t be able to watch a movie tonight. 
  14. Clear up: to clarify, to become more clear (literally or figuratively).
    • It was really good to sit down with my coworker and clear up the misunderstanding we had.  
    • After the rain stopped, the sky cleared up and the rest of the day was sunny.
    • My last Portuguese lesson really cleared up my confusion about subject-verb agreement.
  15. Come up: to go up, usually into a residence or a different floor in a building/house, to create something.
    • My date walked me home last night and asked if he could come up; I told him no.
    • I’m amazed at the inventions that entrepreneurs come up with!
  16. Crack up: to make someone laugh a lot, to go crazy.
    • I love talking to you; you always crack me up!  
    • I think she’s finally cracked up; she was acting very strange last night.
  17. Creep up: to move in a slow and sneaky manner, to gradually increase.
    • I hate haunted houses where people creep up behind you and scare you.  
    • My credit score is creeping up, slowly but steadily.  
  18. Divide up: to separate into smaller groups, to separate into equal groups.
    • My teacher divided up the class into small groups for conversation practice.  
    • My father’s will divides up his estate into 4 equal parts.  
  19. Dress up: to put on more formal clothes or a costume.  
    • My daughter loves to dress up as a princess.  
    • You should always dress up for a job interview.  
  20. Drink up: to finish a beverage.
    • Drink up; we have to leave soon.  
    • Drink up, fellas — the night is young!

One thought on “20 Phrasal Verbs that Use Up

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