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What's the difference between call and call up to mean make a telephone call to? Is the latter any more informal than the former, or is it mainly a regional thing?

call someone or something up

To telephone someone or something: As soon as I heard the news, I called up my broker and told her to sell the stock. I called him up to ask if he was free for lunch.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs

call someone up

(especially North American English) to make a telephone call to someone

Oxford Learner's Dictionary

call (someone) up or call up (someone)

chiefly US : to make a telephone call to (someone)

I haven't spoken to her in years, but I called her up last night and we talked for hours.

Call me up when you get back from your vacation.

I called up my doctor and made an appointment.

Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

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In the variations on U.S. English with which I am familiar, "call" and "call up" can be used interchangeably to describe placing a telephone call. They have little to no difference in meaning for that use, but they have different alternative meanings.

To "call" someone may also mean to shout to attract their attention, and especially to shout their name for that purpose. "I called him, but he did not hear me." It can also communicate the name I use for someone: "His given name is George, but I call him Pookie."

On the other hand, to "call up" can mean to summon a reserve or back up person to duty; this sense is most often used to describe returning military reservists to active duty, or to describe elevating athletes from lower-tier leagues to higher leagues.

You might prefer one of "call" or "call up" if the other presented a risk of confusion with one of its other meanings.

  • How are the other senses relevant? – Edwin Ashworth Mar 28 '16 at 22:14
  • @EdwinAshworth, the other senses are relevant because they provide a possible basis for choosing one of the two terms: to avoid confusion with an alternative meaning. I have added that to my answer. – PellMel Mar 28 '16 at 22:18
  • I'm not at all convinced that possible ambiguity wouldn't be resolved by context in almost all cases. But as regards the interchangeableness of 'call up' and 'call' when phone-related: you're probably correct, but unsupported answers are not appreciated on ELU, possibly being mere opinion. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 28 '16 at 22:31
  • When I hear the phrase "call up," I think of the Jews being called up to report for transport by the Nazis. I encountered it in The Diary of Anne Frank. It's used on the Anne Frank website. annefrank.org/en/Subsites/Timeline/World-War-Two-1939-1945/… – zeugma Mar 29 '16 at 5:40
  • One can remove most ambiguity by using "phone" instead of "call". – Hot Licks Oct 25 '16 at 11:11

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