Why do we use up as adverbs for verbs? For example, 'wake up', 'throw up', etc.

  • 1
    This question seems silly to me, "up" doesn't have any special status: get on, wait on, go on, etc.
    – delete
    Sep 14, 2010 at 8:38
  • The one that puzzles me more is "one up" as in "One up on Wall Street" Sep 14, 2010 at 9:16
  • @Jian: maybe you could make that a separate question?
    – delete
    Sep 14, 2010 at 14:20
  • 1
    Looking at the answers, especially the accepted one, I think that this question simply needs rewording along the lines of "Is there a difference between 'wake up' and 'wake', 'throw up' and 'throw'?" or something like that.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 14, 2010 at 23:48

3 Answers 3


"wake up" and "throw up" are phrasal verbs.

A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a preposition, a verb and an adverb, or a verb with both an adverb and a preposition, any of which are part of the syntax of the sentence, and so are a complete semantic unit. Sentences may contain direct and indirect objects in addition to the phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs are particularly frequent in the English language. A phrasal verb often has a meaning which is different from the original verb.


Notice that "throw up" and "throw" have different meanings. "Throw up" means to "vomit", while "throw" means "to propel through the air by a forward motion of the hand and arm".

And "wake" means "to be or remain awake", while "wake up" means to "stop sleeping".


Bruno's right, they're phrasal verbs. Just think of how many phrasal verbs you can construct from "to get": get up, get down, get on, get off, get over, get under, get by, get through ...etc.

I imagine it must be tough for non-native speakers of English to learn these. I suppose you just have get down to work and put up with it.

  • 1
    Gosh, this isn't really an answer and yet it has got two upvotes.
    – delete
    Sep 14, 2010 at 14:20

I think these two have the images of moving our body up, rising the upper body from the bed. Throw up has an image of having the food going from the stomach up to the throat and give it out.

  • What about speed up, lie up, fatten up, whip up?
    – delete
    Sep 14, 2010 at 12:29
  • Eat up, toughen up, "man up".
    – Mike Pope
    Oct 11, 2010 at 2:37
  • Most of those have the connotation of "more": faster, bigger, more excited. The exceptions are "eat up", where means "completely", parallelled in "finish up" and "break up"; and "lie up", which I cannot explain.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 12, 2010 at 15:30
  • @Colin imagine holding a 3 foot wooden stick by both hands and then bend it to break it... you will see it break "up" Apr 15, 2011 at 13:30
  • @Jian Lin: I don't understand your point. If you bend the stick upwards, it will break upwards; if you bend it downwards, it will break downwards. Neither of which have anything to do with the phrasal verbs "break up" (which has various meanings to do with being split into pieces, including the transferred meaning of "come to an end", referring to a meeting or a school term) and "break down" (which means to cease to operate correctly).
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 15, 2011 at 14:55

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