"Up there" and "down there" are two of the most frequent expressions that I, myself, use often. I really don't know whether they are just expressions used to refer to a place to go ("I went down there and picked up the mail") or whether they have some significance attached to them. Like recently at the airport, somebody told me "to go down there for the International terminal" and I wondered whether they meant "down" literally, or was it just the expression?

2 Answers 2


Prepositions are often interchangeable in English, even when they seem to mean exactly the opposite thing in their literal sense. It is possible, for example, to say

You'll find a Chevron station down the road about five miles.


You'll find a Chevron station up the road about five miles.

or even

You'll find a Chevron station along the road about five miles.

and mean exactly the same place.

When someone tells you to go "down there for the International Terminal" they don't necessarily mean literally down as in on another vertical level unless the terminal happens to be on another vertical level. They could probably just as easily have said "up there for the International Terminal" — or even "over there for the International Terminal."

Prepositions may also be used as mild intensifiers. Instead of saying "Get out of here," someone might colloquially add emphasis with a few supererogatory prepositions: "Get on up out of here." Paradoxically, those same prepositions could be used to soften the statement as well. Much depends on context and tone.

  • Sometimes I might be more inclined to use up instead of down in a particular situation, e.g. I might say up if I'm going north, or down when I'm travelling south (particularly when the distances are long). As another example, on a river, up is against the current, and down is with the current. That said, more often than not, I could use up, down, or out just about interchangeably, as in, "We're going to drive up/down/out to Uncle Dave's for Christmas."
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 21:23
  • @J.R.: In the UK many people still speak of going up to London even if that means travelling South. Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 23:12
  • @FumbleFingers: Same here. We might be more inclined to use up for north and down for south, but that's only a generality, and exceptions abound.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 2:40
  • @J.R.: I'd say up river is almost always towards the source; tidal rivers change direction of flow. The really tricky ones are the two-way rivers (eg Katonga, Kafu) and those that reverse flow (eg Tonlé Sap). Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 9:41

As any good dictionary will show you, up and down both have many meanings beyond those related to location in a vertical plane. When someone gives a direction such as the one you mention, the words are usually accompanied by a gesture or a movement of the head which should remove any doubt about what is meant.

  • 1
    Without delving too much into the word-classes up and down are claimed to flit through, I think most people would concede their prepositional usage/s. The 'prototypical' use of prepositions is to show relations in the physical world, which usage can be termed semantic: the station is down the road / he went down the road. In these examples, down obviously also syntactically joins the subject to the words expressing location or direction. This syntactic property is exploited in constructions dealing with non-spatial relationships: on the train --> on the hour --> on fire --> on ice. Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 17:22
  • @Barrie yes she did gesture towards the terminal, but there was down elevator also there, that led to the confusion
    – Max
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 8:05

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