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The Phrasal Verb 'Take Up' Explained

Updated: Feb 7

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


A dirty paintbrush resting on a paint covered canvas

Hello and welcome to my website all about English phrasal verbs! Read on to learn more about the phrasal verb 'take up'...


The English phrasal verb 'take up' is one that every English learner needs to have in their active vocabulary as it has a large number of different meanings and uses. In this post, I will teach you about 10 different ways that it is used in the English language by native speakers, with lots of examples and even an idiom included too. So, without further ado, let's get started....


TAKE UP: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

10

Separable?

Sometimes

Past tense forms

Took up / Taken up

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

 

THE BASICS

The letters ABC written on a chalkboard with books and chalk sticks in the foreground

Let's start by considering the meanings of the individual words 'take' and 'up', as this may give us some valuable insight into the meanings of the phrasal verb 'take up'.


The verb 'to take' is one of the 10 most common verbs in the English language and so you should be very familiar with it already. One of the main meanings of the verb 'to take' is 'to move something from one place to another place and it should be noted here that the destination of the thing is usually a different location from where the speaker is at the time of speaking. In other words, we use 'take' for movement of something away from the speaker. This is often confused with the verb 'to bring' by English learners, which is where something is moved towards where the speaker is or will be.


Additionally, some other key meanings of the verb 'to take' include 'to use your hands to remove something from a place', 'to accept something' and to talk about the time required in order to do something.


The prepositional particle 'up' is a much used feature in phrasal verb constructions and can often give the idea of movement in an upwards direction or an increase of some sort. Aside from this, it can also add the ideas of improving something and making something ready.


So, now that we have covered the basics, let's proceed with the meanings of the phrasal verb 'take up'....

 

MEANING 1: Literal


An onion bulk taking up water from a clear vase

Before we look at the more figurative usages of the phrasal verb 'take up', I first want to talk about its literal meaning as it is used relatively often by native speakers and it is good to be aware of it.


In its literal sense, 'take up' is applied to mean 'to move an object from one place to a higher place', such as from the ground floor to a higher floor in a building. Another example of this is with plants, which 'take up' water and nutrients from the ground as a means of food and sustenance. In addition to moving something in an upwards direction, we also commonly use it to mean 'to take something to a place in front of us or to a person directly'. Remember, with all of these uses, the movement is always away from where the speaker is.


Examples of usage....

Your Dad is still in bed. Can you take him up this cup of coffee?
I had to collect all of the finished exam papers and take them all up to the teacher.
Plants take up all of their nutrients from the soil.
 

MEANING 2: To start a hobby or regular activity



CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To start, to begin

Separable?

Both

Nouns commonly used with

Hobby, pursuit, activity

So, now let's start with the reason that you are probably here, i.e. the idiomatic, non-sensical and confusing meanings of the phrasal verb 'take up'....


The first one that we will look at is 'to start doing a regular activity, such as a hobby or pursuit'. This could be anything from learning a language, rock climbing and fishing to smoking cigarettes. Regardless of the type of activity, 'take up' can be used to signify the beginning of something repeated or consistent in a person's life, or even a habit.


'Take up' is not only used for completely new hobbies and activities in a person's life, as it can also be used when somebody starts doing something again, after previously stopping. For this, we just need the additional adverb 'again'.


Aside from hobbies and activities, this usage of 'take up' can also be used to talk about embarking on a new career in a particular field or industry, often when it is a very different one to the one the person currently has.


On a grammatical level, this usage of the phrasal verb 'take up' is separable, however it is heard more commonly in its inseparable form. When the activity that the person starts is stated as a verb, it should always be in the gerund ('ing / progressive) form.


Examples of usage....

John has recently taken up cycling, so he hasn't been at home at weekends for the past few weeks as he's been going out on his bike.
You need something to help reduce your stress. Why don't you take up a new hobby?
Helen's New Year's resolution for this year is to take up outdoor swimming.
I took up smoking when I was 15 years old and I gave up in my early twenties but I took it up again a few years later.
How can I take up a career as a nurse?
Roger has moved to America in order to take up a career in the tech industry.
 

MEANING 3: To start a job



CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To start, to begin

Separable

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Job, role, position

In the last section, we talked about how 'take up' can be used to mean 'starting a career in a new industry or field', however you should know that it can also mean 'to start a job'.


For this usage, it is not necessarily a job within a different sector or field, but rather just a new job that you start working at, so this could be delivering newspapers, working in a supermarket, starting a new teaching role or even a cabinet role in government...you get the idea I'm sure. This application is similar in meaning to the phrasal verb 'take on' (link here).


You are likely to hear this usage of 'take up' with such nouns as 'job', 'role', 'position' and 'post'.


Examples of usage....

I am very pleased to announce that Lisa has taken up the role of office supervisor, effective from today.
Tim's personality changed as soon as he took up the Director's position in the company.
After moving to the USA to work in the tech industry, Roger took up a job as an Analytics Manager in a big multinational firm.
 

MEANING 4: To accept an offer or challenge



CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To accept

Separable?

Yes - sometimes

Nouns commonly used with

Offer, challenge, invitation

I want to remain with the idea of a new job role for a little while longer as it is very much linked to this next application of 'take up'. When someone takes up a new position of employment, they must first be offered a job role and must then accept it, which is exactly what the fourth meaning of 'take up' is: 'to accept an offer or challenge'.


We can use 'take up' to mean 'to accept something that is offered to us. Whilst theoretically we could accept any offer that we receive with 'take up', it tends to be used more for offers of a substantial nature, which are usually offers of help or assistance with something. We don't tend to use it for small offers such as offering salt and pepper at dinner or an offer to make someone a drink as this might sound a bit unnatural and strange.


A handshake after someone takes up another's offer

For this application of the phrasal verb 'take up', we can say that we 'take up' an offer, however there is also a particular word order that you should be aware of when we want to include the offerer and this requires the additional preposition 'on'...


'To take someone up on an offer'


If you take someone up on an offer, it is another way of saying that you accept his or her offer. This construction is very commonplace in everyday spoken English and if you can use it, it will give you lots of native speaker points 💯


Moreover, in addition to an offer or proposal, 'take up' is also commonly used when accepting a challenge from someone.


Examples of usage....

John has taken up my offer to come and stay with me. He is coming here next month.
Does that offer to help me paint my house still stand? I'd like to take you up on it if it does!
I didn't expect her to take me up on my proposal but she has!
After careful consideration, Diane decided to take Ross up on his challenge.
 

MEANING 5: To occupy space or time



CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To occupy

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Space, time, room

Let's now move away from from the idea of accepting jobs and offers and instead think more about time and space. This is not time and space in the Einstein and physics sense, but rather the hours and minutes of our daily lives and the physical space of the world in which we live. Now, where does the phrasal verb 'take up' fit with these concepts?


Firstly, let's consider 'space', or more specifically 'taking up space'. When something 'takes up space', it occupies or it fills a specific area. This is often used in a slightly negative way when something is very large and does not leave as much room as somebody wants, or alternatively doesn't leave enough room for much else.


Secondly, let's consider 'taking up time'. When something takes up a person's time, it means that the person in question spends a lot of time doing one thing and therefore does not have much time for other things. It is also common to hear a native speaker say that something 'took up their day or morning etc., meaning that he or she spent the entire of the specified time period doing that one thing only. As with 'space', this can often be said with an aspect of negativity or irritation.


Grammatically, this application of 'take up' is separable but the majority of the time we do not tend to use it in a separable way.


Examples of usage....

I really want to sort out my attic. There are so many boxes up there just taking up space.
I always have to ask my husband to move over in bed as he always takes up all the space and I find it difficult to sleep!
There are a lot of unused programmes on Laura's computer's hard drive, which take up a lot of space.
This job has taken up my entire morning! I thought it would only take an hour and I have still not finished.
Working three jobs takes up a lot of my time, so I don't often get a chance to watch much TV.
 

MEANING 6: To discuss something with a manager or authority



CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To discuss further, to escalate

Separable?

Yes

Have you ever been in a situation where you have received poor service in a restaurant and have asked to speak to the manager? If you have, then this next usage of 'take up' could have been very useful as it means exactly that.


Well, not specifically speaking to a manager in a restaurant, but If you 'take something up with someone', it means that you discuss a subject or a matter that you are not happy about with any manager or authority figure, in order to resolve it. This is often after you have already spoken about it to at least one other person but you need to speak to a person higher up in the hierarchy in order to find a resolution.


Aside from in restaurants, cafés and bars, this application of 'take up' is also used in settings as diverse as hotels, within businesses, and committees, officials and ombudsmen of industries and authorities within a country. The thing that they all have in common is that they all have the power to resolve an issue or problem.


On a grammatical note, you may have noticed from the example given above that this application requires the additional preposition 'with' to specify the higher power with whom you need to speak. Additionally, this usage is separable and is generally always separated, normally with either the word 'it' or 'this' inserted between 'take' and 'up'.


Examples of usage....

I'm sorry but I can't help you with this. You will need to take it up with the head of department who can assist you further.
Luke is really annoyed with the situation and has vowed to take it up with the authorities.
I'd like to take this up with the manager, please.
 

MEANING 7: To continue after a pause



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To continue

Separable?

Yes

This next usage of 'take up' is slightly rarer than the others so far in terms of usage, however it can still be heard in spoken English and means 'to continue something after a pause or an interruption'.


Typically, this is used for conversations and stories when the person speaking has been interrupted and the speaker then must then 'take up', what they were saying and continue. This is especially true if a different person continues what was being said following the disruption.


Along with spoken stories and conversations, it is also possible, but rarer, to use this application of 'take up' for jobs and tasks, especially if a different person continues the action.


IDIOM ALERT!!

This usage of the phrasal verb 'take up' has given rise to the idiom "to take up (from) where you left off", which means to continue from the place or point that something was stopped. An alternative form "pick up where we left off" also exists and is perhaps more commonly used than the 'take up' version.


Examples of usage....

Lisa went quiet and the story was taken up by Helen.
John's manager no longer wanted to finish the project, so John decided to take up the task himself.
Ok ,shall we just take up where we left off?
 

MEANING 8: To get into a position



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To assume, to get into position

Separable?

No

Well done if you have managed to make it this far! We are nearly finished with the different usages of 'take up' and we only have a couple of shorter applications remaining 😀


The next meaning of 'take up' is 'get into a position' or 'to assume a position'. Normally, this is a planned position or place that someone has been instructed to go to in order to be ready for something. Typically, you may come across this when talking about military personnel, sports players or actors on a stage, all of whom are given positions that they need to be in, or 'take up', ready to start their work.


Examples of usage....

All of the actors took up position on the stage just before the curtain came down and the performance began.
Two soldiers took up their posts outside of the parliament building and were poised for action.
As the players were taking up their positions for the start of the game, a loud noise could be heard coming from outside the stadium.
 

MEANING 9: To shorten a garment



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To shorten, to hem

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Trousers, pants, skirt, garment, jeans

If any of you have read my post about the phrasal verb 'let down' (link here), you may well remember that one of its meanings is 'to make an item of clothing longer'. Well, this meaning of 'take up' is the exact opposite meaning to that and means 'to make an item of clothing shorter'.


Typically, this is used for garments for the lower half of the body that can be too long, such as trousers (pants) or skirts, however it can also be used for curtains and other items consisting of large pieces of material. Taking up clothes is normally done by folding the bottom of the garment upwards and sewing it, thus making it permanently shorter.


Examples of usage....

These trousers are too long, so my Grandmother is going to take them up for me.
Taking up skirts is a very simple job for a seamstress to do.
 

MEANING 10: To remove a ground covering



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To remove

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Floor, lawn, pavement, sidewalk, carpet

This final meaning is one for anybody who is interested in DIY, construction or gardening as it can be used in any of these areas. It is a rarer meaning that you will only ever hear when these topics are being discussed and it means 'to remove a ground covering such as a floor, lawn or carpet'.


If you 'take up' a floor, you remove the top layer of it such as the tiles, the wooden planks or the concrete, exposing the ground beneath. Likewise, if you 'take up' a lawn, you remove the grassy surface in a garden and if you 'take up' a pavement (sidewalk in America), you remove the top layer that people normally walk on. 'Taking up' ground coverings is usually only ever done as part of larger work or in order to access the space beneath the covering such as pipes or cables and so this is quite a rare usage that you may never come across.


Examples of usage....

In order to gain access to the blocked sewer pipe, we had to take up the kitchen floor as it was above the access point.
We decided to take up the lawn in our garden and replace it with a patio.
 
Questions in overlapping, multicoloured speech bubbles on a black background

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'FILL IN' (Other variations may be possible)


  1. I've FILLED IN the application form to be on the TV show and I am now just waiting to hear back from them.

  2. The gardeners have promised to FILL IN in the holes that they dug in the garden.

  3. Once you have coloured in all of the most detailed parts of the painting, just FILL IN remaining blank parts in grey.

  4. Can someone please FILL me IN on what has been happening since I have been away?

  5. Mrs Jones is not going to be teaching for the rest of the school year as she is having a baby, so Mr Hill is going to be FILLING IN until she comes back.

  6. Can you give me some tips on what I can do to FILL IN a couple of hours in London next Saturday whilst I am waiting for my train.


 

This brings us to the end of the 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 'take up' below. I really love reading them. If you want to receive new blog posts directly email every week, please sign up on the form below.



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