Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

The phrasal verb ‘run up’ has many meanings in English.

Are you ready to run up your All Ears English listening time?

Listen in on today’s episode and get into using this phrasal verb in three different ways.

Run up a bill

Lindsay asks Aubrey if she has run up a bill in a restaurant without knowing it.

Aubrey answers that this has happened to her.

She shares a funny story that happened when she was engaged to be married.

She was looking for a venue for their wedding luncheon.

She was with her husband and their parents and they dined at a French restaurant.

They asked for recommendations from the server and he recommended a seafood salad.

When it arrived, it was bigger than expected.

When the bill came, they were surprised to see the salad was $500.

Their parents were planning to foot the bill.

  • foot the bill: to pay for a bill

They did end up booking the restaurant despite the huge cost of the food.

Today’s question

Like most of our episodes, today’s discussion is inspired by an All Ears English listener question.

Lindsay and Aubrey will be talking about the phrasal verb ‘run up.’

Here is the question:

“Would you please talk about the word ‘up’? Sometimes it says ‘run up’ or ‘walk up’. I feel that ‘up’ could be removed, but it is more native. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. I am Michelle BTW.”

This question was passed to us by Sandy, the All Ears English social media manager in China.

The listener sent this through social media platforms in China.

Multiple meanings of ‘run up’

Today we’ll dive into the phrasal verb ‘run up.’

It has many meanings and we’ll break them down so you can use them properly in a conversation.

Here are three meanings to help you get started:

#1: To go up

This meaning is often used when you refer to someone or something going physically up.

It can be going up a floor in a building or a home.

This can also mean going uptown.

In terms of geography, this is heading in a northern direction from a starting point.

If you remove the word ‘up’, it can still have the same meaning.


  • I’m going to run up to her office.
  • He ran up to his bedroom.
  • He ran to the coffee shop / He ran over to the coffee shop
  • Are you going up to Arizona?

#2: To take something upstairs

With this meaning, instead of going up yourself, it means bringing something up with you.

This is often used in informal situations.

It is different from the first meaning because you are bringing an object with you.

It is usually used when you are taking something upstairs to a person.


  • I ran the report up to his office.
  • He’s going to run the meeting notes up to her.
  • Can you run this up to your sister?

#3: To increase or allow to pile up

This meaning is used when referring to bills or debts.

It can be used for anything that can increase or accumulate.

You will also hear this in sports when talking about scores.


  • The baseball team ran the score up in the 3rd inning.
  • She often runs up charges on her telephone bill.

An idiom used with this phrasal verb is ‘run up the flagpole.

We taught this in a recent episode.

You can hear it at AEE 1944: New or No Longer? Business English Slang with Slangman David Burke from VOA.

In that episode, Lindsay and David talked about whether this idiom is still relevant.


Now that you understand the different meanings of ‘run up’, here is a quick roleplay.

This will help you to better understand how to use this phrasal verb in a conversation.

In this scenario, Lindsay and Aubrey are at an NBA game.

Lindsay: Wow they really ran up the score this half.
Aubrey: Seriously! Hey, I’m going to run up to the snack shop. Want anything?
Lindsay: No thanks, but can you run this up to the trash for me?
Aubrey: Sure no problem.


‘Run up’ is an extremely common phrasal verb in English.

It can be confusing since it has three totally different meanings.

Today’s examples and roleplay can help clarify so you can use this phrasal verb with confidence.

You can listen again and push your English skills by ensuring you understand then keep practising.

You may not get it perfectly at the beginning but as you keep using it, you’ll be able to sound more natural and native.

What other phrasal verbs do you want the team to make an episode about?

Share it in the comments below.

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