Don’t Act Up If It Doesn’t Add Up!

As this is the first in our series discussing common phrasal verbs in English* it makes sense to begin, well, at the beginning. In other words, with the letter A. A number of the most common – and commonly confused – phrasal verbs begin with the first letter of the alphabet.

Act Up – to work improperly, as if with a mechanical problem.

Note: This word can be used to describe both people and things. When describing people, however, it is used more for behavioral (not health) problems.

Example:  My laptop is acting up again. The fan is making such a terrible noise that I will probably need to take it to the repair shop soon.


Example:  Whenever we go to the theater Ricky acts up; he makes a lot of noise and refuses to sit still.

 Add … Up – to add things together

Example:  Whenever I go to the grocery store I try to add up my total before I get to the register. I would hate to find out I don’t have enough money during checkout!

Add Up – to be understandable, logical, or believable

Example:  Ricky’s reason for arriving late just does not add up – who ever heard of a blizzard in July?

Note: Add up has two meanings that can be distinguished based on the position of the object* – when the object is inside of or after the phrasal verb it has the first meaning; when it is before the phrasal verb it has the second meaning. Of course, context helps too!

Add Up To – to equal

Example:  Two plus two adds up to four.

Note: This three word phrasal verb, like many phrasal verbs that are longer than two words, is inseparable – that means the object can only come after the complete phrasal verb.

Ask … Out – to invite someone on a (romantic) date.

Example:  Jennifer really wanted Jon to ask her out but was too shy to say anything for a long time!

* Be sure to check out our overview of phrasal verbs to better understand our notation and, of course, for more examples!