Is ringing somebody up exclusive to telephone use, or can it be used to say you made a call on somebody's person?

EDIT: Note that my question is specifically asking about British English; I would love to hear from an actual Brit the answer.

  • 3
    and give him a ring means the same - unless you're proposing :)
    – JoseK
    Apr 25, 2011 at 13:05
  • 3
    "Knocking someone up" has very different meanings in British vs. American English.
    – user362
    Apr 25, 2011 at 14:56
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    No one brought up knocking [somebody] up....please save the jokes for relevant questions.
    – Uticensis
    Apr 26, 2011 at 11:39
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    @Billare: So, what do you require? Proof of residency? scan of the passeport? What happens if a Brit answers who is currently living oversea?
    – F'x
    Apr 26, 2011 at 12:11
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    @F'x: I most certainly am that, and yes - I delayed this reply to give time to think of even a single instance where 'ringing someone up' might be used in meaning something else, I can't. If I were to post an answer then it would only serve to reiterate your point plus add my (in)experience as noted here. Apr 26, 2011 at 14:39

4 Answers 4


The Oxford English Dictionary clearly states:

ring: [trans., Brit.] call by telephone

The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary also says “to make a telephone call to someone”.

Though it's always hard to prove a negative, I've never seen it used for something other than a telephone call, and looking through some recent Google Books excerpts doesn't bring any other use either.

Answer Officially Sponsored by Mr. Disappointment, Britishness Expert!


It may be localized, but 'ringing someone up' is used in the American mid-atlantic area to refer to the process of tallying someone's purchases at a store, eg:

I can ring someone up in this line. (said by a cashier who is unoccupied)


She's ringing someone up right now, but will be with you in a minute. (when you ask to see the manager, and she's occupied.)

  • 4
    I can confirm similar usage in Southern US English.
    – Dusty
    Apr 25, 2011 at 16:50
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    and in the Great Lakes area as well. Apr 25, 2011 at 19:22
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    I can confirm this usage in Pittsburgh (I lived there 5 years)… but also that it doesn’t occur in the UK, in my experience (I’m a Brit). In the UK, the cashier (=*clerk*, for some US speakers) may ring up your purchases at the till, but if she rings you up, that’s a phone call.
    – PLL
    Nov 8, 2011 at 16:15
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    Also California usage. Worth pointing out this tends to be anachronistic with modern cash registers, that don't ring. Dec 12, 2012 at 21:30

It just means to make a telephone call. It is never used in relation to till operations, in the form "ring up". You might ring up some items, though.


There is "ring the curtain up", which means to signify the end of something.

There is also "ring something up" on a cash register; it can also mean "to register sales".

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