How to Use the Phrasal Verb BACK UP

The Phrasal Verb Back Up
If you don’t back it up with performance and hard work, talking doesn’t mean a thing.
— Michael Jordan

The phrasal verb back up has a few different meanings. In today’s post, we’re going to look at 5 different ways you can use the phrasal verb back up. We’ll also cover important grammar points and other common examples.

Let’s begin!

1. To confirm a statement.

When you back up a statement or an opinion, you show facts or evidence that confirm it. For example,

“You need to back up your opinions with examples.”

“There is no evidence to back up his theory.”

We can also use back up to confirm that what someone is saying is true. So we can say, 

“If I tell my parents I was with you, will you back me up?”

“Go ahead and tell the boss what happened. I’ll back you up on it.”


Support, corroborate (formal).

Grammar Points

We can separate this phrasal verb when used in this context. For example,

“The evidence backs up her story.”

“The evidence backs her story up."

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2. To make copies of computer files.

When you back up files stored on a computer, such as pictures, documents or music, you make copies of them. So we can say,

“Make sure you back up your work regularly.”

“I’m so sorry. I forgot to back up the pictures and now they’re lost forever!”



Grammar points

We can separate this phrasal verb when used in this context. For example,

“I forgot to back up the files.”

“I forgot to back the files up.”

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3. To move in reverse.

When you back up, you move backwards. For example,

Back up please. I can’t see!”

“Can you back the car up a little. You’re blocking the way.”



Grammar points

When used in this context, we can separate this phrasal verb. So we can say,

Back up the car.”

Back the car up.”

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4. To return to something previously mentioned.

When you tell someone to back up, you ask them to repeat something they said because it surprised you or because you didn’t hear it. For example,

“Woah, back up. You’re getting married?!”

“Wait, back up. What did you say that phone number was?”

5. To accumulate because of an obstruction.

When a sink, toilet or drain is blocked and water can’t flow through it, it’s backed up. For example,

“The toilet is backed up again. Can you call the plumber?”

Backed up is also commonly used for traffic. So we can say,

“Traffic is totally backed up because of all the construction.”

Grammar Points

In this context, back up is often used in the passive:

“The drains were backed up.”

“The toilet is backed up.”

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Practice what you’ve learned and share your examples in the comments below! If you’d like to look at more example sentences, you can read some here and also here.

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