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The Phrasal Verb 'Stand Up' Explained

Updated: 3 days ago

An explanation of the different meanings of the English phrasal verb 'stand up', with lots of examples in context.

A man who has been stood up in a bar

Hello and welcome to my website for English learners all about English phrasal verbs!


This post is all about the phrasal verb 'stand up' and its different uses and meanings in English. I am sure that many of you are already familiar with at least one or two of the meanings of 'stand up' but do you know all of them? For instance, do you know what it means if something stands up to scrutiny or what it means if you've been stood up? Not to worry if you don't as in this article, I will explain to you how this strong and courageous phrasal verb is used in English, with lots of examples for reference and understanding. So, without further ado, let's get started. Make sure to leave a comment at the end and impress me with your own sentences!


STAND UP: KEY INFORMATION For an explanation of the terms in the table, click here

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

6

Separable?

Sometimes

Past tense forms

Stood up / Stood up


 
The letters ABC spelled out on a blackboard with books and chalk in the foreground

THE BASICS

Before we learn about the different meanings of the phrasal verb 'stand up', let's first of all let's take a quick look at the words 'stand' and 'up' and what they mean on their own.


Firstly, we have the verb 'to stand', which has a few different meanings in English, but by far the most common one is to be in an upright position, so that you are supported by your feet.


A women standing on a beach looking out to sea
I was standing on a beach, looking out to sea.
John stood on the table and gave a speech to the party guests.


Another common meaning of the verb 'to stand' is used to talk about objects, buildings or cities and means 'to be situated'.

London stands on the banks of the River Thames.
A castle once stood in this spot, however it was destroyed many years ago.

The prepositional particle 'up' is one that you will often find in phrasal verb constructions and is often used to incorporate the idea of a movement to a higher place or an increase of some sort. Aside from this, it can also add the ideas of completion and readiness, among other things.


Now that we have looked at the meanings of the individual words, let's move on to the meanings of the phrasal verb 'stand up'....

 

MEANING 1: To rise to your feet from a sitting or lying position

A woman standing up from a bench

CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To stand, to get up

Separable

No

The first meaning of 'stand up' is a nice and easy one as it it simply means 'to rise to your feet from a sitting or lying position'.


Whilst the verb 'to stand' normally means to be on your feet in an upright position, we use 'stand up' to describe the upwards motion of our bodies when transforming from a sitting or lying position to an upright, standing one.


You should note that 'stand up' is used for any movement when we change to an upright position, except for when we first leave our bed in the morning to start our day. For this particular action we use 'get up' instead and 'stand up' does not sound right here.


All of the students have to stand up when the teacher enters the classroom.
I felt fine until I stood up and I had to quickly sit back down again as I felt extremely dizzy.
Could everyone please stand up to sing the national anthem.
The patient tried to stand up but his legs were not strong enough.

CAN STAND UP BE USED SEPARABLY?

In the table above I stated that this usage of 'stand up' is not separable as it does not take a direct object and while this is generally true, there is one exception to this....if you have an object that you want to put in an upright position, then you can stand it up. This would normally be for something that is normally in a supine or lying down position and which you want to make upright, either by leaning it against something or by changing the surface that is in contact with the floor.

I stood my umbrella up on its end to let all of the rainwater run off it.
Roger tried to stand the Christmas tree up several times but it kept falling over again as it was too heavy on one side.

BONUS INFORMATION

There is also an adjective that is derived directly from this usage of 'stand up'. The adjective 'upstanding' is a fairly common word in English with two distinct meanings. The first meanings is linked directly to this application of 'stand up' and means 'to be in a standing or upright position', whilst the second meaning is used to describe people who are respectable and honourable within society.


Would everyone please be upstanding to welcome in the bride and groom.
I am an upstanding member of this community!
 

MEANING 2: To fail to meet someone

A man waiting with his back to a wall

CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To jilt, to let down

Separable?

Yes

For the second meaning of 'stand up', we have a classic case of heroes and villains....


Imagine that you have arranged to meet a friend for dinner at a restaurant. You arrive at the restaurant at the agreed time and your friend is not there, so you order a drink and wait for them to arrive but after half an hour they are still not there. You check your phone and they haven't contacted you to say they will be late, at which point it is probably safe to assume that they have stood you up. That is because the second meaning of 'stand up' is to fail to meet someone when you have agreed to do so.


In the example above, I was talking about a friend not turning up when they were supposed to, however in reality, this application is used much more for dating, because most friends just don't do that to each other without a very good reason.


Of course, in this situation there are always two parties involved. Firstly, we have the innocent heroes (good guys) who are the people who are stood up and when referring to them, we tend to use the passive voice. Moreover, it is common to use the passive forms 'be stood up by someone' or 'get stood up by someone' here.


My date stood me up last night and I was sitting waiting for him to arrive for two hours in the restaurant. It was so embarrassing!
Have you ever been stood up before?
I thought it would never happen to me but I got stood up by a girl last week for the first time. She's blocked me on social media now, so I can't even find out why!

Then, we have the horrible villains (bad guys) who stand people up and leave them waiting for hours (in extreme cases). For them, we tend to talk about them using the active voice and separate the verb with the name of the good guy or relevant pronoun going between 'stand' and 'up'.


I was supposed to meet John in the new bar on Oxford Street this evening but I stood him up.
Charlie was going on a date tonight with someone he'd been chatting to on a dating app but at the last minute he decided he didn't want to go and ended up standing his date up.
 

MEANING 3: To be accepted as valid after scrutiny

A scientist peering into a microscope

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To fly, to hold up, to pass, to hold water, to check out

Separable?

No

If you enjoy watching English language courtroom drama series or movies, then this next usage of 'stand up' might be one that you are familiar with already as the meaning is 'to be accepted as valid after scrutiny or investigation'.


To put this meaning into context to help your understanding, let's use the courtroom as an example. If a crime has been committed and somebody gives evidence as part of the court trial, the evidence must be carefully examined, scrutinised and questioned and at the end of this process, if the evidence is proved to be true and correct, you can say that it stands up. Conversely, if it is found that the evidence is false or is not true, we can say that it does not stand up.


It is quite common to hear the expression 'to stand up in court' used with this application to refer to something that is deemed acceptable or admissible in a court following close examination.


Outside of the courtroom, 'stand up' can be used in this way to talk about other areas of life where investigations needs to be carried out and evidence or data need to be examined closely in order to be proven, such as police investigations and scientific explanations.


If this evidence stands up, then we are pretty much guaranteed to win the court case.
Following close scrutiny, this information has been deemed to be irrelevant and therefore will not stand up in a court of law.
The scientific paper is currently being peer reviewed by other scholars to see if it stands up.

If we want to specify or state a noun such as scrutiny or investigation here, then we require the additional preposition 'to'.


The big question is whether or not this will stand up to scrutiny.
We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the decision stood up to judicial review.
 

MEANING 4: To defend someone or something

A group of protesters bearing a banner saying 'Climate Justice"

CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To defend, to protect, to guard, to stick up for

Separable?

No

For our next meaning of 'stand up', we need to enlist the help of the extra preposition 'for' to give us the construction 'to stand up for something', which means to defend someone or something'.


More specifically, if you stand up for someone, it means that you defend them when they are under attack or are being criticised. Generally, in this situation the victim may be perceived to be weaker than the person who is attacking them or not able to defend themselves in some way, so another person feels that they need to defend them.


In general, if you stand up for someone, then you do so with words and you do not physically defend them.


My best friend was always bullied at school and nobody ever stood up for him.

As I mentioned, it is also possible to stand up for something and in this case the thing that we are trying to defend is usually something that is under threat and therefore can be nouns such as 'rights' or 'freedom'.


If we do not stand up for our basic rights, we are at risk of losing them under this government.
The defiant politician claimed in a fiery speech that he would stand up for free speech.
 

MEANING 5: To defend yourself

A young man being held by the coat in an intimidating way

CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To defend yourself, to oppose, to challenge, to defy

Separable?

No

Meaning number five in today's post is also about defending and is 'to defend yourself' and for this one we require the additional preposition 'to'. My original intention with this fifth meaning of 'stand up' was to include it with the fourth meaning that we just looked at as they both mean 'to defend', however upon reflection I think it is better to include them as two separate meanings.


Unfortunately bullies and mean people are a fact of life, and we can experience them anywhere from school to the workplace. In today's world, it is sadly very common for people to be picked on and persecuted in many different ways. The main idea with bullying is often a power imbalance with the more powerful or aggressive person or people seeking to harm or intimidate their victims who they view as inferior to them and vulnerable. Now, if the victim ever decides to refuse to let the bully intimidate them and defends themselves against the bullying, we can say that the victim 'stands up to the bully'.


Essentially, this is the meaning of 'to stand up to someone', which I guess goes back to the idea that you stand up to the same height as the bully, can look them directly in the eye and show that you are not scared or intimidated by them. Furthermore, going back to the idea of the power imbalance that is inherent within bullying, it is possible to use 'stand up' for any kind of intimidation, bullying or mean behaviour from one more powerful person or group towards the perceived less powerful one.


The next time that the boy threatens to hit you, you need to stand up to him and make it clear that he will regret it if he does.
The defending army stood up the invader's aggression and repelled them.
I know that I need to stand up to my boss when he is rude to me but I am terrified of losing my job.
 

MEANING 6: To not be damaged by something

Windswept palm trees in a hurricane

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To withstand, to endure, to survive, to hold out, to bear up

Separable?

No

For our sixth and final meaning, we again require the additional preposition 'to' but this time we are talking about things and objects rather than people and it means 'to not be damaged or negatively affected by something'.


Typically, we use this application with buildings, roads and infrastructure and whether or not they are damaged or affected by things such as bad weather or extreme usage.


The hurricane was severe but luckily our house stood up to it and was completely intact afterwards.
Engineers are keen to find out how the old railway lines will stand up to the increased frequency of high speed trains that will pass over them.
 
The End spelled out in yellow tiles on a blue background

We have now reached the end of this post and i hope that you've enjoyed it and have been able to learn something new. So, just to recap, standing up is generally good, especially if you have been sitting down for a long time, however standing someone up is bad and not a very nice thing to do. If you stand up for someone, you defend them and if you stand up to someone, you defend yourself. When something stands up to scrutiny or investigation, it is considered to be valid and acceptable and if your house stands up against a hurricane, then that is a very good thing as it means it is still there and not damaged!


Now it is YOUR turn. Leave a comment on the blog post with your own sentence using 'stand up', comments or suggestions....don't be shy!!!


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Also, if you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media. See you next time! James 😊







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