Up! English Expressions and Phrasal Verbs

up-arrow-button-english-eslEnglish has a lot of expressions that use the word up.

(be up to)

What are you up to right now?

This means “What are you doing?”

To answer, you can say “Nothing much,” or you can describe what you are doing. For example, you could say, “I’m hanging out with friends.”

Sometimes you’ll here this without the word “to.” Someone will just ask: “What’s up?”

You would answer in the same say: “Nothing much.”

A second meaning of be up to is “be someone’s decision or responsibility.”

Student: Can I retake the test that I missed?

Teacher: I’m sorry, you can’t.

Student: Why not?

Teacher: It’s not up to me. It’s a school policy.

(be up for)

Are you up for a hike?

This means, “Do you want to do this?”

To answer you can say, “Yes, I am,” or “No, I’m not.”

Someone might say, “I’m tired. I’m not up for going to a night club. I’m too tired.”

(*) Notice that the word “for” must be followed by a noun, a gerund, or a noun clause.

I’m up for a hike.

I’m up for hiking.

I’m up for whatever you want to do as long as it’s outside.

(be up)

You’re really up today. What’s going on?

This means “You seem really happy and positive.”


To answer, you can explain why you feel so happy. “I’m in love.” “I got a new job.”


This adjective is similar, but it describes something or someone’s character.

That song is really upbeat. (It has a cheerful, bouncy rhythm.)

He is an upbeat guy. (He is always looking on the bright side.)

Many phrasal verbs also use up.

mess (…) up :

  • make a mistake
    • I messed up the recipe. The food was terrible.
    • I messed it up.

look (…) up

  • research/ find
    • How can I look up that information?
    • Where can I look it up?

dress up

  • dress formally
    • She dressed up for her interview.

play up

  • exaggerate
    • Football players often play up their injuries.

stand up

  • rise and stand on feet
    • We stood up after the class ended.

stand (…) up

  • break a date without saying
    • Her boyfriend stood her up. He never met her at the restaurant, and she didn’t know where he was.

break up

  • end a relationship
    • She broke up with him after that.

set up

  • arrange
    • Let’s set the chairs up for the meeting.
    • Did you set up the guest speakers yet?