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back up: meaning and explanation

The phrasal verb to back up or to back someone/something up has a few different meanings.

  • to back someone up = to support someone

If we are helping or supporting someone in a difficult or challenging situation, then we are backing them up:

, ! .

We can use this phrasal verb as a noun, backup, to mean extra support:

  • to back someone/something up = to provide supportive evidence for something, to say that something is true

If someone makes a claim, then they might need to back it up with evidence to show that it is true:

If someone backs you up in this way, then they are confirming that what you are saying is the truth:

  • to back something up = to make a copy of digital information

If you back up your files, then you are making a copy of them for security, in case anything happens to the original. Again, this is often used as a noun, backup:

We can use backup more generally, to describe things that can be used if something happens to the original:

  • to back up = to reverse/go backwards

When someone is backing up their car, then they are reversing:

We can use this phrasal verb figuratively, to ask someone to ‘reverse’ or go back a little bit in what they are saying. This is usually because we want to hear something again, or because we have not understood something:

Finally, if traffic backs up, then cars are stuck in congestion or a traffic jam.

Here are some more examples of this phrasal verb being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Dictation #1

Accent: England (London)

Dictation #2

Accent: North America

Dictation #3

Accent: England (RP)


Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • Can you remember a time when you had to back someone up?
  • Have you ever lost some work which you hadn’t backed up?

Photo by Siyuan Hu on Unsplash

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