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The Phrasal Verb 'Give Up' Explained

Updated: 5 days ago

A detailed explanation of the English phrasal verb 'give up', with examples and exercises.


Phrasal verb 'give up' - a man breaks a cigarette in two

Hello and welcome to my blog on English phrasal verbs. The subject of this week's post is 'to give up'. This common phrasal verb has various different meanings that we will look at in this post, but in all of the different meanings you will see that there is a general idea of stopping something or a situation by choice. So, without further ado, let's go....


KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

​5 (+ an additional 2 bonus meanings)

Literal meaning

No

Idiomatic meaning

Yes

Separable

Yes

Past forms

Gave up / Given up

British or American

Both

For more explanation of the terms in the table above, click here

 

THE BASICS



As per usual in each post, we'll start by looking at the individual words that make up the phrasal verb 'give up'.


Firstly, we have the common verb 'to give', which means to offer or provide something to someone by choice. Implicit in the meaning of the verb 'to give' is that the person who gives no longer has something or is without something once the action is complete. This is an idea that will recur in the idiomatic meanings that we will look at in this post, so it is worth remembering this.


Secondly, we have the prepositional particle 'up', meaning a movement in the direction away from the ground or towards the sky ↑.


As you may have noted in the table above, there is no literal meaning when these words are combined, so let's dive straight into the figurative meanings....

 

MEANING 1: To stop doing something (idiomatic)



CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

​Usage

Common

Separable

Yes

​Potential synonyms

​To stop, to quit

Used commonly with

Smoking, meat, job, alcohol

The first usage of 'give up' that we will consider in this post is the one that most people associate with this phrasal verb and means to stop doing something that you regularly do in your life i.e. a habit. This is often a permanent stop, but can also refer to a temporary pause of a habit for a limited period of time.

Phrasal verb 'give up' - the word vegetarian spelt out using blocks next to a plant.

I think that this is most commonly used when someone stops smoking (they give up smoking), but it can also equally be used to describe stopping other long-term habits such as when a person becomes vegetarian (they give up eating meat) or decides to stop drinking alcohol (they give up drinking).


You will note from the examples above that the verb following 'give up' is in the gerund form, so make sure you avoid using the infinitive 'to' here as this is incorrect. An alternative to the gerund would be to use the noun of the action that you are 'giving up' e.g. "I am giving up meat" or "I am giving up cigarettes".


Another noun that you sometimes hear with this usage of 'give up' is job, work or career. If someone chooses to quit their job for whatever reason, we can use 'give up' to express this.


Examples of usage....

I've been trying to give up smoking for 3 months to no avail! INTENDED MEANING: I have been trying to stop smoking for 3 months without any success!
I gave up meat and dairy products and became vegan a while back but I really miss cheese. INTENDED MEANING: I have been a vegan for some time now and I miss eating cheese.
The doctor told me I need to give up drinking alcohol. INTENDED MEANING: The doctor advised me that it is important for me to quit drinking alcohol.
My mum had to give up her job in order to care for my elderly grandparents. INTENDED MEANING: My mum had to quit her job as she needed to spend her time looking after my grandparents.

The word tips spelt out using wooden blocks


EXTRA TIP TO SOUND MORE LIKE A NATIVE SPEAKER


Staying on the subject of giving up a job or a career, we use the expression "don't give up your day job" when we want to say to someone that they are not very good at something in a humorous way. This is normally used to criticise someone in a friendly, joking manner and not normally said to cause offence.


 

MEANING 2: To stop trying to do something (idiomatic)



​CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper Intermediate

Usage

Medium

Separable

Yes

Potential synonyms

To stop trying, to lose heart

This second usage is actually more of a continuation of the previous usage that we have just looked at as it also talks about stopping something, but it is the more specific meaning of to stop trying to do something.


Imagine that your car breaks down and instead of calling a mechanic to repair it, you decide that you will repair it yourself. After looking at the engine for an hour to try and understand what the problem is, you decide that you cannot do it and call the mechanic. In other words, you gave up trying to fix the problem.


The above example is a typical example of how this usage of 'give up' is used in everyday English, especially because we often use it when we give up trying to do something because we do not think that we can do it. This can often be when we are trying something new or learning how to do something and we find it too difficult, so we give it up.


Examples of usage....

I started learning Turkish last month but I gave up when I realised how difficult it was! INTENDED MEANING: I stopped trying to learn Turkish as I realised it was too hard for me.
Despite encountering many problems, my Mum didn't give up trying to build her business and it is now doing really well. INTENDED MEANING: Although she had many problems, she did not stop trying to build her business and it is now thriving.
Phrasal verb 'give up' - the word 'tips' spelled out using wooden blocks

EXTRA TIP TO SOUND MORE LIKE A NATIVE SPEAKER

If you in a situation in an English conversation in which you need to guess the answer to something, the correct way to say that you do not know or that you do not have any more guesses is to say "I give up". This will then signify to the other person that you want to stop trying to guess and they will then (normally) tell you the answer.

 

MEANING 3: To abandon hope


A statue of a woman despairing

CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper Intermediate

Usage

Medium

Separable

Yes (but rarely)

Potential synonyms

​To despair

This third usage of 'give up' is similar to the first two usages that we have looked at as it also means to stop something. In this case, we are particularly talking about stopping or abandoning hope about something.


The thing that distinguishes this from the previous two usages is that we need the extra preposition 'on' here, in order to convey our message, giving us the construction 'to give up on something'.


We use this particular construction when we stop hoping that a particular situation is going to change or improve. Consequently, this can also mean that we stop any efforts that we have been making to improve the situation and this can often be inferred in the meaning, (depending on the context).


Typical situations in which native speakers use 'give up on' are romantic relationships that are not working, people that they are trying to help without success, plans that are not succeeding and ideas and plans for the future that they decide not to follow up.


Examples of usage....

I had given up on the money that my friend owed me, so I was pleasantly surprised when he paid it to me. INTENDED MEANING: I had stopped asking my friend to pay me back the money that he had borrowed from me, so I was very happy when he repaid it to me.
Roger fell into some bad ways as a teenager but his mother never gave up on him. INTENDED MEANING: Roger was an unruly teenager but his mother didn't ever stop loving and supporting him and believing in him.
I've given up on the idea of becoming a teacher as I don't think it is right career for me. INTENDED MEANING: I have stopped wanting to be a teacher as I do not think it will be suitable for me.
 

MEANING 4: To let someone have something that is yours



CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper Intermediate

Usage

Medium

Separable

​Yes

​Potential synonyms

Relinquish, renounce, cede, hand over, sign away, part with

The next meaning of 'give up' that we will consider is a little bit different to the first three that we have looked at, although it does still fit with the general theme of losing or being without something.


For this usage, we use 'give up' to express when we decide to renounce or forgo something that we own so that another person can have it. In other words, we decide that we do not want to (or cannot) own something anymore and therefore make it available for other people.


This meaning is often (but not always) used when we give something up against our will i.e. when we do not want to part with it but we have to for some reason. For this reason, it can often convey a negative feeling.


Another point to make here is that the focus of this usage is not that we are giving something to another person (in the sense of the verb 'to give'), but rather it is on the idea that we no longer have something because we have let somebody else have it.


Another noun that is often used in this way is 'time'. People say that they give up their time when they agree to spend their time doing something for another person or that they do not want to do.


It is very common for native speakers to use 'give up' separably in this context, however it should be noted that there is no change in meaning if used separably or inseparably; it is personal choice.


Examples of usage....

Due to the economic crisis, John and Helen had to give up their home and move in with Helen's parents. INTENDED MEANING: John and Helen were forced to sell their home and go to live with Helen's parents as a result of the economic crisis.
I might have to give my dogs up as I travel so much for my work. INTENDED MEANING: I may no longer be able to keep my dogs due to how much I will travelling for my job and will be away from home.
Lisa gave up her free time over the weekend to help her brother paint his house. INTENDED MEANING: Lisa spent her free time helping paint her brother's house at the weekend.
 

MEANING 5: To hand yourself in to the police


A man's wrists being handcuffed by a police officer

​CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper Intermediate

Usage

Medium

Separable

Yes - with a reflexive pronoun

Potential synonyms

To surrender, to hand oneself in

Our fifth and final usage of 'give up' means to surrender to the police or authority figure for a crime that you have committed. This is used specifically for when a person decides to surrender to the police and willingly goes to the police station to say "it was me, I committed the crime". This could also be used when a person allows themselves to be arrested by the police.


For this usage, the relevant reflexive pronoun (myself, himself etc.) needs to be used between 'give' and 'up' and the additional preposition 'to' is required before 'the police'.


Examples of usage....

The bank robbers gave themselves up to the police after they realised that they could not evade capture for much longer. INTENDED MEANING: The bank robbers surrendered to police as they knew that the police would capture them soon afterwards.
You need to go to the police and give yourself up! INTENDED MEANING: You should go to police and surrender for the crime.
 

BONUS INFORMATION


One extra usage of 'give up' that I want to make you aware of is "to give it up for someone", which is a spoken request to a group of people to show their appreciation for someone by clapping, cheering etc. Don't forget to use it with the word 'please' 😜.


Another expression that I want to make you aware of is when native speakers say "I give up!" as a way to express that they are frustrated with an unchanging situation or have lost hope about something (as in usage 3). This can range from something that is mildly annoying to something very serious.



 

IDIOM ALERT!


Before we reach the end of this post, I want to make you aware of the English idiom 'to give up the ghost'. This is a fairly common expression in English to mean to stop working or to die and is normally used to talk about machines and equipment which stop functioning. If this is used for humans, it is usually used when you stop trying to do something because you realise that it will not be successful.


Example of usage....

My laptop has given up the ghost and I am need to go and buy a new one! INTENDED MEANING: My laptop is broken and no longer functioning, so I need to get a replacement.
I no longer had the desire or the money to continue my art project, so I simply gave up the ghost on it. INTENDED MEANING: I stopped wanting to work on my art project and also I couldn't afford it, so I stopped it.
 

EXERCISE Re-write the following sentences using 'to give up'

  1. I have been trying to stop smoking for a year.

  2. Helen had to stop reading the psychology book as it was too difficult for her.

  3. Don't ever stop believing in romance, you will find true love one day.

  4. I had to sell my car as I could not afford to keep it.

  5. The drug dealer went to the police station and admitted his crimes.

  6. Please can everyone give John a big round of applause!

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'GO ON' (other variations may be possible)

  1. What time do you go on?

  2. What on earth has been going on here?

  3. I don't think I am going to go on studying science next year.

  4. As the years and decades went on, people began to forget the war.

  5. He didn't stop going on about the blog that he has started.

  6. The police think she committed the crime but they don't have much to go on.

 

That is the end of today's post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I sincerely hope that it has helped you a little bit further on your English learning journey.


If you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media, so together we can help as many English learners as possible to understand and master these tricky phrasal verbs.


Also, please leave any comments, questions, suggestions or examples of 'give up' below. I really love reading them. See you next time! James




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