Consider the examples from the Free Dictionary:

That summer, she up and died.

He had lived here for twenty years, and then one day, he up and left for good.

Is this a contraction of a longer phrase, making "up" a particle (as in "get up")? Or is "up" meant as a verb, but mysteriously not inflected according to tense/person? (in which case, how did it end up not being inflected?)


2 Answers 2


In that context, it’s a verb, meaning, in the OED’s definition 'To start up, come forward, begin abruptly or boldly, to say or do something'. It can be inflected, but it is only used colloquially.

The OED’s earliest citation for intransitive use in this sense is dated 1831 and shows a third person singular form: The bishop ups and he tells him that he must mend his manners. These three citations, from 1958, 1973 and 1979 show the past tense upped:

So you upped and fled.

It did no good. I upped and died.

As soon as we could we upped and fled.

In its transitive use, the verb is known, at least in the UK, for the sense 'To drive up and catch (swans, etc.) so as to provide with the mark of ownership', first recorded in 1560-1: For uppyng the ground byrde in porte meade. A citation from 1593 shows both the –ing form and the past participle: That the upping of all those swans . . . may be upped all in on day wt the upping of the Tems.

Swan upping continues on the Thames to this day.

  • 1
    It's a verb with a rather strange conjugation, then. I up, you up, he up, past participle up, no present participle. Aug 5, 2012 at 20:53
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    An addendum to my last comment: it appears that to up and leave is gradually becoming a regularly conjugated verb, but it didn't use to be one. See Ngram. The way I use it, and the way everybody seems to have used it forty years ago, up is never inflected. So for some people, it's clearly a verb now. Was it really one fifty years ago? I don't think the OED really answers this question. Aug 5, 2012 at 21:00
  • @PeterShor: I have edited my answer in an attempt to cover these points (and added some incidental information). Aug 6, 2012 at 6:59
  • The OED presumably doesn't consider "he up and told him" a use of "up" as a verb, since that predates the inflected use by at least 150 years (1671 in this reference), and they generally give the earliest usage they can find of any expression. So what do they consider it grammatically? Aug 6, 2012 at 18:35
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    @Peter Shor: It has this citation from about 1639: ‘For the man . . . up and told them all that had fallen out.’ It’s under the entry for ‘up’ as an adverb. Aug 6, 2012 at 19:23

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage has a section on this.

Some usage books and schoolbooks view the phrase up and with the same distaste they direct at take and, go and, and try and (which see). Up and is no bucolic idiom redolent of our frontier past, however; it is current on both sides of the Atlantic, and is used in general publication, often by writers of more than ordinary sophistication. It, too, is not highly formal.

They then give four examples, the oldest of which is 1968, and in all of which up appears to be inflected like an ordinary verb. (e.g., suddenly upped and won).

The way I use it, and the way that I see it used in many of the older citations in Google Books, up and is not inflected. For example, from Mark Twain (1884)

The doctor he up and says "Would you know the boy if you was to see him again, Hines?"

This is a very old construction: "he up and told the gentleman" appears in a 1687 translation of Don Quixote, while the oldest inflected example I could find in Google Books is he upped and he tould them, which appeared in 1845 in Dublin.

I suspect that the uninflected usage is the original, and that over the years the construction up and verb gradually became regularized. This would point to the origin being elision in some construction "(verb) up and do something", although I haven't been able to find any discussion of the etymology.

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    worth noting that the quijote source text appears to be "Y luego les fue contando punto por punto el encanto de la señora Dulcinea, y lo que le había sucedido en la cueva de Montesinos, con la orden que el sabio Merlín le había dado para desencantarla, que fue la de los azotes de Sancho."
    – muhmuhten
    Jan 12, 2015 at 1:20

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