Wassup with ‘up’?

On a busy, close-to-year-end evening on Bourke Street, while I was watching everyone enjoying the festive season, I heard around me ‘what’s up’, ‘clean up’, ‘set up’, ‘give up’, ‘show up’, ‘sold up’….

That’s when it struck me, “What’s actually up with ‘up'”? Why has it suddenly become the most important word in English? And trust me, this did strike me big time, and I decided to do some fair bit of research!

Now that I’m convinced some of it does make sense while some redundant, I thought of sharing with you how ‘up’ has shaped (or ‘shaped up’) in the new world. And I give credit to Oxford Dictionary (http://oxforddictionaries.com/) for all the understanding I have gained.

Note: I’m discussing the most common usages here. You can refer to Oxford Dictionary for all other meanings of the following verb phrases. Also, I don’t want to divert from the main topic and assume we all know ‘up’ is both an adverb and a preposition.

Sometimes, adding ‘up’ completes the sense. For example, in verb phrases such as
give up – part with something (John decided to give up smoking.)
set up – to establish (Mary seeks help to set up her own blogs.) (If you’ve stopped here thinking about word settings here such as set up, setup and set-up, that’s the theme for my next blog.)

Thus, it definitely is not redundant when used with verbs to form verb phrases. Take a pause and think about some more verb phrases where ‘up’ makes sense. What about ‘shut up’? Is it the same as ‘shut’? Well no! Telling John to shut the door is very different from telling him to shut up. 🙂

Let’s look at some other functionalities of ‘up’ when used as an adverb.

In verb phrases such as ‘get up’, it refers to rising from a sitting posture and standing erect. Other similar phrases are stand up and sit up, among others.

In verb phrases such as lift up and pick up, it means to take the thing from its present place to a level higher, i.e. raising it. In phrases such as dig up, it refers to bringing something from below the level of earth.

Additionally, there are many figurative uses of the word ‘up’ when used in verb phrases.

‘break up’, ‘tear up’ meaning to divide into parts
‘swallow up’ meaning reaching completion
‘finish up’, ‘clear up’ meaning progressing towards an end
‘brush up’, ‘fix up’ meaning fixing or putting in order
‘tie up’, ‘bundle up’ meaning to bring together

So, you’ll find the adverb ‘up’ serves many functionalities when used in verb phrases, and that there is a thin line between its use as redundant and emphasizing. You never know, sometimes redundancy can add just the needed emphasis!

How about ‘hurry up’ and ‘meet up’?

‘That’ or ‘Which’ is worth knowing!

‘That’ and ‘Which’ are one of the easiest words in grammar, yet I meet so many people who are unclear when to use ‘that’ and ‘which’.

Here are two versions of one sentence, one with ‘that’ and the other with ‘which’.

Which of the two sentences, do you think, is correct?

  • The book, which recently made headlines because of its content, has sold 100 000 copies.
  • The book that recently made headlines because of its content has sold 100 000 copies.

I’ll first give you the answer to the question above, rather than making you wait till the end of the article. The sentence with ‘that’ is correct. Also note the parenthetical commas in the first sentence.

Now the rule of thumb!

That or WhichUse ‘that’ to introduce a restrictive clause and ‘which’ to introduce a non-restrictive (parenthetical) clause. Have restricted and non-restricted created more confusion now? Well, it did when I learnt it the first time. But this is one widely used terminology to differentiate ‘that’ from ‘which’.

Here’s an easy explanation. Use ‘which’ when your purpose is just to add extra information to the sentence. That is, the meaning of the sentence is clear even without adding the extra information. Use ‘that’ when the meaning of the sentence is unclear without the clause. That is, if the clause is removed, the meaning of the sentence will change.

In the example above, the first sentence without the clause reads, ”The book has sold 100 000 copies”. This is unclear. Which book? What was the feature because of which it sold so much? Thus, you definitely need the clause to complete the meaning of the sentence. Hence, the second sentence is correct: The book that recently made headlines because of its content has sold 100 000 copies.

Let’s try with one more example now.

  • Lecture room 5, which is newly built, is in building 51.
  • Lecture room 5 that is newly built is in building 51.

Now in this case, the sentence with ‘which’ is correct. The ”newly built” clause is adding extra information to the sentence and if removed, does not alter the meaning of the sentence—Lecture room 5 is in building 51.

Another difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’ is that ‘which’ is always supported by parenthetical commas.

Now that you know the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’, you would ask, ”Is this difference worth bothering”?

While most people would use ‘which’ and ‘that’ interchangeably and it does not result in undue confusion, it is worth knowing the difference to make your writing as clear as possible (especially in technical and business writing).

Just a reminder towards the end; do not use ‘that’ or ‘which’ to refer to people. Use ‘who’ instead.

  • Incorrect: The boy that played football is injured.
  • Correct: The boy who played football is injured.