top of page

The Phrasal Verb 'Grow Up' Explained

Updated: Jul 30

A detailed explanation of how to use the phrasal verb 'grow up' correctly like a native speaker.

A plant starting to grow up out of the ground

Hello and welcome everyone to this instalment of Phrasal Verbs Explained; a blog which aims to help you understand English phrasal verbs in a clear and coherent way, so that you can improve your language level and sound more like a native speaker.


This week's post is all about the well known phrasal verb 'to grow up', which many of you will be very familiar with, however are you familiar with the other less well known meanings? Read on to find out more....


KEY INFORMATION:

​Usage

Common

Literal Meaning

Yes

​Idiomatic Meaning

Yes

Meanings

3

Separable

No

Past forms

Grew up / grown up

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

 

MEANING 1: Literal


A sunflower growing up towards the sun

CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Rare

Transitive or Intransitive?

Intransitive (no direct object)

Separable?

No

Potential synonyms

To grow

To begin with, let's look at the individual components of the phrasal verb 'to grow up', as this will help us understand the rarer literal meaning.


Firstly, we have the verb 'to grow', meaning to increase in size or height and then we have the particle 'up', meaning in the direction away from the ground or towards the sky ↑.


The literal meaning of 'grow up' is simply a variation of the verb 'to grow', just with additional emphasis on the upwards direction.


As the idea of 'up' is already implicit in the idea of the verb 'to grow', the use of 'grow up' to describe something growing in size is not normally necessary in English. As a result, this literal usage is very rare. If we do use it, it is mainly for describing the growth of plants and, more rarely, hair or nails and is used to emphasise that something is growing in an up ↑ direction, rather than down ↓ or out ←→(across).


We do not use 'grow up' to describe people getting taller. To do this we only use 'grow'.


It is also possible to use the construction 'to grow up + noun' to talk about when a plant grows up the surface of another object.


Examples of usage....

Plants grow up and not down or out because they need sunlight.
The ivy has been growing up the wall for many years.

Another form that we can use and that you should be aware of is 'to grow upwards'. The prefix -wards in English is always used to identify a direction of movement, so 'to grow upwards' is a nice alternative way to say that something is growing in an up direction. This is also a very natural way of saying it.


Furthermore, if growth is happening towards something e.g. the sky, we can use the construction 'to grow up towards + noun'....


Examples of usage....

The sunflower that we planted last year is growing up towards the roof of the house.
Plants naturally grow upwards in search of sunlight.
 

MEANING 2 - To grow from a child to an adult (Idiomatic)



CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

​Common

Transitive or Intransitive?

​Intransitive (no direct object)

​Separable

No

​Potential synonyms

​To mature

In English, the main usage of 'to grow up' by far is the one which you probably already know, which is to grow from a child to an adult.


This is usually used to describe the PROCESS of growing from an adult to a child over time.


This can be in a physical sense and also in a mental or spiritual sense.


To grow up is only used to describe people and is not generally used to talk about animals or businesses.


In usage, it is often used by adults to refer to their past or the period of time when they were a child.....


Examples of usage....

I grew up in Birmingham, close to a really big park, which we played in every summer.
When I was growing up I hated school but now that I am an adult, I wish I could go back!

Also, children often use it to talk about what job they want to do when they become an adult....

When I grow up I want to be a doctor and have an enormous house with a swimming pool.

WHAT IF WE WANT TO USE IT AS AN IMPERATIVE?



'Grow up' is often used by native speakers as an imperative ("Grow up!") to show annoyance when someone is acting in a silly way or like a child.


Example of usage....

Oh grow up, John! It's really not funny!

You may already be familiar with the noun 'grown up', which is a synonym for 'adult', meaning a person who has finished the growing up process or has grown up.


Examples of usage....

My daughter wants to be a police officer when she grows up. INTENDED MEANING: My daughter wants to be a police officer when she is an adult.
He was born in Edinburgh but he grew up in Glasgow. INTENDED MEANING: He lived in Glasgow as a child and continued to live there until he became a young adult.
I had blond hair when I was growing up. INTENDED MEANING: In the period of time when I was a child / teenager I had blond hair.
Whoever is playing these jokes on me needs to grow up! It's not funny! INTENDED MEANING: The person responsible for the jokes is not a child and should stop acting like one as it is annoying me.

EXTRA POINT TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE #1

If we want to talk about who or what a person will be at the end of the growing up process, it is necessary to add the extra preposition 'into'.....


Examples of usage....


I see that you have grown up into a fine young man! INTENDED MEANING: The person has recently reached adulthood and the speaker thinks that he either is very handsome or attractive.

There are many child actors who grow up into Hollywood film stars. INTENDED MEANING: A lot of child actors become Hollywood film stars when they become adults.

EXTRA POINT TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE #2


One way to talk about something that we did often or regularly when we were children is to use the simple past form of the verb (grew up), followed by the verb or action in the continuous ('ing) form. This is often (but not always) with verbs related to the senses e.g. to watch, to listen to etc.


Examples of usage....

I grew up listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna music and so I still love their songs today.
My mother is Polish, my father is German and I live in the USA, so I grew up speaking three languages.
 

IDIOMATIC MEANING 2 - To start to develop


A map of Australia with pins marking the cities

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

Transitive or Intransitive

Intransitive (no direct object)

Separable

No

Potential synonyms

​To develop, to spring up

A second, much rarer and advanced idiomatic meaning of 'to grow up' means to begin to exist.


This is not used to talk about people, but rather abstract items such as ideas as well as towns and cities. As it is used to talk about the origin of things, it is often used in historical contexts.


Examples of usage....

The idea grew up in the 17th century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. INTENDED MEANING: The idea was first conceived and started to become popular during the time when Elizabeth I was the Queen of England.
The river made trading possible and as a result many towns grew up alongside it. INTENDED MEANING: Many towns developed along the side of the river because it enabled trading to take place.
 

A mixed British & American flag

SPEAK LIKE A NATIVE: TYPICAL EXAMPLES OF HOW “TO GROW UP' IS USED BY NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS


If you can memorise some of the sentences below and use them in a conversation, it will help your English to come across as more natural and like that of a native speaker. You'll need to use your imagination to complete some of them.

When I grow up I want to.......
When I was growing up I......
He / she is growing up so fast!
It's about time you grew up and got....
I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in a world where.....
[Person] and I grew up together.
[Gerund] is a natural part of growing up.
It is very close to the city where I grew up.
 

EXERCISE


Re-write the sentences below using 'grow up':

  1. When I am an adult I want to have a house close to my parents.

  2. Sometimes I wish you would stop acting so childishly!

  3. She spent her childhood in New York

  4. The concept of trick or treating at Halloween developed in the USA after a lot of people emigrated there from Ireland

  5. King Henry VIII became a very talented huntsman as an adult

  6. During my childhood and teenage years, I listened to a lot of reggae music

(Answers at the end of the post)

 

POTENTIAL IELTS QUESTIONS

  • Should children grow up in the city or in the countryside?

  • Where did you grow up? Describe it.

  • Is it better to grow up with or without siblings?

 

OTHER OPEN QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER PRACTICE

  • What is your favourite memory of when you were growing up?

  • Did you have a skill or talent when you were growing up that you no longer have? What was it?

  • If you could have grown up in a different place, where would you have chosen to live?

  • Has your taste in music changed since you were growing up?

  • How has the village, town or city where you grew up changed since that time?


 

EXERCISE ANSWERS (other variations may be possible)

  1. When I grow up I want to have a house close to my parents.

  2. Sometimes I wish you would grow up!

  3. She grew up in New York.

  4. The concept of trick or treating at Halloween grew up in the USA after a lot of people emigrated there from Ireland.

  5. King Henry VIII grew up into a very talented huntsman as an adult.

  6. Growing up, I listened to a lot of reggae music.

 

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 go ahead and share it, 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 'grow up' below. I really love reading them. See you next time!




















bottom of page