I recently noticed how many verbs have "directions" as adverbs:

"look up", "find out", "talk down", "figure out", "walk up", "look down", "point out", "clean up", and so on.

"Talk down" and "look down upon", could be interpreted literally, as one would consider the other person to be inferior, implying you would need to literally talk/look downward.

I was able to find some attempts to explain this use of "up" pointing out that one other possible meaning of the word is to "make it visible" or "make it appear", so looking something up would mean to make the desired information appear by looking for it. However, there was not much progress in figuring out the origin of this use, only that it dates as far back as the 17th Century and possibly a holdover from Proto-Germanic.

For "out", I could find little to no information at all.

This question is roughly on the same topic, although more specific, but the answers only mention this to be a common occurrence. I understand the existence of phrasal verbs, what I would like to know is more on "why" and "how".

Do we know how this came to be a "trend"?

  • I find it odd that there is no mention of a "preposition" in your question; when I hear "out", "in", "down", "up", etc., that's the first thought that pops up. Dec 31, 2020 at 11:30
  • 1
    @niamulbengali I believe in these cases they are not prepositions, as they are not literal "out"s or "down"s, I am not sure they could have both classifications in the same sentence, I don't really think so, making them purely adverbs. However, It would be nice to have a more qualified opinion.
    – Iorpim
    Dec 31, 2020 at 11:46

1 Answer 1


You already know what "up" means. Why do you know and how do you know "up" is "up" ? It's because "up" has been used as that and you learned "up" as that. Water is water. Boy is a boy and girl is a girl. For many years, "up" has been used in so many ways having so many applications, keeping its basic meaning. If "up" has changed or changed as having different meaning. It's a kind of a field of study. I also wonder why look up is look for(though a usage is a little bit different). I learn by heart like this(my personal way of remembering), in the past, people looked up(physically either their eye or their head) to find out how many stars are up in the sky. They tried to look for something. So look up came to look for. You know look up at the sky, look up at the moon(physically), look up at the airplane, look down at the floor, look down at the nightscene from the hotel balcony, look down at me who is lying down on the floor etc. It was my personal guessing.

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