12 Phrasal Verbs With UP: A Better Way to Learn!

Phrasal Verbs With Up

Are you finding it difficult to learn phrasal verbs? Well, most English learners struggle with learning phrasal verbs, so you’re not alone! If you’re ready to give up on phrasal verbs, please don’t! I promise you: there is a way to learn them.

A better way to learn phrasal verbs is to practice them in groups. But instead of using the traditional method of grouping them by verb, grouping the phrasal verbs by particle can make learning them much easier and a lot less confusing.

In today’s lesson, you’ll discover:

  • Why phrasal verbs are difficult to learn

  • What a particle is

  • A more effective way to learn phrasal verbs

  • How to understand phrasal verbs with up

You’re also going to learn these important phrasal verbs with up: dress up, spice up, warm up, speak up, dig up, look up, hold up, back up, dream up, make up, team up, and meet up.

A better way to learn phrasal verbs

Why are phrasal verbs so difficult to learn?

Before we start, let’s briefly talk about what makes learning phrasal verbs so hard. Phrasal verbs drive most English learners crazy for a few reasons: First, they’re a completely new concept for many non-native English speakers. Second, the traditional way of teaching phrasal verbs is ineffective

The most common method for teaching phrasal verbs is to group them by a particular verb. For example, a teacher might give you a list of phrasal verbs with look: look up, look into, look after, etc.

But many teachers are realizing that this method is confusing. Here’s why: you’re trying to learn words that all look the same but have completely different meanings.

And since our brains need to connections to make sense of new information, your brain desperately tries to find a logical relationship between these words when there isn’t one.

So, what’s a better way to learn phrasal verbs?

Instead of grouping phrasal verbs by verb, organizing them by particle can help you make these necessary connections between the different phrasal verbs. That’s because the particles in phrasal verbs have tendencies, and if you become familiar with these tendencies, it’ll make learning phrasal verbs easier.

But, what’s a particle?

Each phrasal verb is composed of a verb and a particle. Let’s look at the phrasal verb speak up as an example:

verb + particle

speak + up

Speak up is another way to say “speak louder.” So, as you may have noticed, in this example, up indicates an increase in intensity. In different contexts, up can signify other things such as becoming more attractive or more exciting.

In the next section, we’re going to focus on the different meanings of the particle up when used as part of a phrasal verb.

Understanding phrasal verbs with UP

The particle up is often used in these ways:

  1. Become more attractive or exciting: Dress up and Spice up

  2. Increase in degree or intensity: Warm up and Speak up

  3. Reveal or discover information: Dig up and Look up

  4. Delay or obstruct: Hold up and Back up

  5. Imagine or invent something: Dream up and Make up

  6. Join or put people into groups: Team up and Meet up

In the next section, you’ll learn what these phrasal verbs mean and how to use them.

Understanding phrasal verbs with UP

The particle up is often used in these ways:

  1. Become more attractive or exciting: Dress up and Spice up

  2. Increase in degree or intensity: Warm up and Speak up

  3. Reveal or discover information: Dig up and Look up

  4. Delay or obstruct: Hold up and Back up

  5. Imagine or invent something: Dream up and Make up

  6. Join or put people into groups: Team up and Meet up

In the next section, you’ll learn what these phrasal verbs mean and how to use them.


1. UP to mean more attractive or exciting

Dress up

We use the phrasal verb dress up when we wear clothes that are more formal than the clothes we normally wear. We often use dress up when we put on special clothes to look more attractive or appealing.

Let’s say a friend invites you to an event and you’re not sure if the event is formal or casual, you could ask, “Do I need to dress up?”

We also commonly use this phrasal verb as an adjective. So we can say, “Why are you dressed up? Are you going somewhere special?”


  • It’s a small casual party – you don’t have to dress up.

  • He’s always so dressed up.

  • I absolutely hate dressing up.

Spice up

The phrasal verb spice up is used when we want to make something more interesting or more exciting.

For example, you could spice up your life with a trip to an exotic country, or you might spice up your relationship with a partner by trying something new together.

We can also use the phrasal verb spice up in a literal sense when talking about food. In this context, we mean that we want to give food more flavor by adding spices. So we might say, “You can spice up the dish by adding a little garlic.”


  • Growing herbs is an easy way to spice up your meals.

  • They’re looking for ways to spice up their sex life.

2. UP to mean an increase in intensity or degree

Warm up

The phrasal verb warm up can mean “to make something warmer.”

If you’re outside on a cold day, you might blow on your hands to warm them up. And the weather usually warms up when it’s spring and it’s getting closer to summer.


  • The morning sun warmed up the room.

  • I’ve put the food in the oven to warm it up.

Speak up

We use the phrasal verb speak up to mean “talk louder.”

So, if you’re talking to someone and you can’t hear them, you might say, “Can you please speak up?”


  • I’m sorry I can’t hear you very well. Could you speak up?

  • You have to speak up. The people in the back can’t hear you.

3. UP to reveal or discover information

Dig up

The phrasal verb dig up literally means “to remove something from the ground that has been buried or planted.”

For example, we can say, “You need to dig up that plant and move it.”

But we also use the phrasal verb dig up when we find hidden information or facts by searching carefully.

So, the media might dig up something from a politician’s past to ruin his chances of being elected. And if you google someone’s name, you might dig up some interesting facts about them.


  • They found my Facebook page and dug up a 20-year old photo of me holding a beer.

  • When we investigated their background, we dug up some surprising facts.

Look up

We use the phrasal verb look up when we try to find a particular piece of information in a dictionary or on the internet.

You might look up a word in the dictionary if you don’t know what it means, and when cooking a dish for the first time, you might look up the recipe online.

We usually omit the word “online” when we use the phrasal verb look up, because let’s face it, where else do we look up information nowadays?


  • I looked up the meaning of the expression.

  • I’ll look up the information and I’ll let you know.

  • I looked up my symptoms and got really scared.


4. UP when there’s a delay or obstruction

Hold up

The phrasal verb hold up means: to cause a delay, to make someone late or to stop something from happening.

Let’s say you’re stuck in traffic, you could ask, “What’s holding up the traffic?”

This phrasal verb is often used in the passive form. For example, if you show up to dinner late you might say, “Sorry I’m late, I was held up at work.” 


  • My train was held up.

  • Corruption is holding up the country’s progress.

Back up

We use the phrasal verb back up to say that something (usually traffic or an order) was obstructed or delayed. Back up is often used in the passive form.

For instance, if there was an accident that obstructed traffic, you could say, “Traffic was backed up for miles.”

Or imagine that you ordered something from an online store. A few days later, they inform you that they’re unusually busy this month, so you’ll be receiving your order late. In this case, they might say, “We’re sorry but orders are really backed up this month.”


  • Please be patient. Our online orders are backed up this month.

  • Traffic was starting to back up in both directions.

5. UP to imagine or invent things

Dream up

The phrasal verb dream up means: to invent a new plan or an idea by using a lot of imagination.

Let’s say one of your colleagues is always late to work, and his reasons for being late are strange and unrealistic. If he’s late again today you might say, “I’m curious what excuse he’ll dream up today.”


  • When we break promises, we’re really good at dreaming up excuses.

  • The police can’t just dream up a reason to arrest them.

Make up

We use the phrasal verb make up when we invent a story, excuse or explanation in order to deceive someone. 

For example, if I told you a story and you think it’s a lie, you could say, “I don’t believe you. You’re making it up.”

And if I had no reason to lie to you, I might say, “But why would I make it up?”


  • They admitted that they made the whole thing up.

  • The story he told wasn’t true. He just made it up.

6. UP to join or put people into groups

Team up

The phrasal verb team up means: to join two people or groups together to work on a project or a goal.

A teacher might team you up with a classmate to work on a presentation, and a company could team up with experts to develop a new product.


  • You can team up with another colleague if you want.

  • We teamed up with a photographer who took us around the city for a picture session.

Meet up

We use the phrasal verb meet up when two or more people come together.

You might meet up with a friend for a quick coffee before going to work, and if you’re planning to go to a bar with some friends on the weekend, you could say, “I’m meeting up with some friends for drinks this weekend.”


  • I have to go now, but I’ll meet up with you later.

  • Are we still meeting up today?


Why is learning phrasal verbs important?

Learning phrasal verbs and using them confidently will not only give you more freedom to express yourself but it will also help build your confidence in English.

Express yourself with more confidence and accuracy

Look at it this way: If you can explain something in a variety of ways, then you won’t get stuck in conversations.

Also, there are so many situations where a phrasal verb is simply the best and most accurate way to express an idea.

In other words, if you don’t know the phrasal verb, or if you know it but aren’t sure how to use it, then you won’t be able to express yourself with accuracy in some contexts.

Sound more natural when speaking English

Many of my students avoided using phrasal verbs in the past, and instead used their one-word alternative. If you’re doing the same thing, then you risk sounding too formal when speaking in English.

Some phrasal verbs have synonyms, but these synonyms are usually too formal for spoken English. For example, you might say “I reprimanded him for lying to me.” instead of saying, “I told him off for lying to me.”

Using the phrasal “tell off” here would sound a lot of more natural and less formal than its synonym “reprimand.”

Remember, the more ways you are able to describe something, the more comfortable, natural and confident you will be when speaking in English.

Final thoughts

I encourage you to dedicate some time today to practice writing sentences with these phrasal verbs. Studying them all at once might be too much, so divide them into two or three groups, and practice them regularly. I suggest going to Phrasal Verb Demon for some sentence ideas and inspiration, then share your examples with us below. 

If you use today’s tips and work on including phrasal verbs in your practice routine, I guarantee you that with time you will lose your fear of phrasal verbs and you will start using them with confidence!



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Perfect for learning online or offline!

About the Writer

Sama is the founder of In English With Love and an online English educator from Canada. Her mission is to make quality English learning materials accessible to English learners and teachers everywhere.

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