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ELL Guide

A guide for ELL (English Language Learners) at the University of Maine at Augusta

Look Up Definition & Explanation

"Look Up" is a phrasal verb that means "to search for specific information." 

Perhaps you are searching for a word's meaning through a dictionary; in that case you are "looking the word up."  

Maybe you are searching for a fact in the encyclopedia.  In that you are, "looking it up."  

Notice that we put the word itself (in the first case literally, "the word") or its pronoun (in the second case, "it') in the middle of the phrasal verb.  This is because "look up" is a separable phrasal verb where words can be inserted in the middle of it.  

But it does not always have to be separated.  

I went to the local Hannaford grocery store to look up prices for fruits and vegetables because I wanted to know exactly what I would be paying.  

In the above sentence, "look up" is not separated by "prices." 

So "look up" is often separated, but not always.  

Look Up Examples

Examples in Sentences (In parentheses after each examples, it is noted whether or not the phrasal verb has been separated or not):

1)  In the cafeteria, my friend was telling a story to all of us and used a world I did not know.  I did not want to interrupt the story, so while she kept on telling the story, I looked up the word I did not know.  (not separated)

2)  I am glad I looked it up because I like the word and will be using it often.  (separated)  

3)  My friend advised me to look professors up before signing up for their classes.  (separated)  

4)  "But how should I look them up?" I asked.  (separated).  

5)  You can look them up by finding their bio on the University website or even just doing a basic Google search.  (separated)  

6)  If I need to find out more information on a subject, I go to the UMA library and look up the subject.  (not separated) 

7)  When I can't find anything on my own, I don't get too frustrated.  Instead, I simply ask the great team of wonderful and talented librarians to help me look up whatever it is I need.  (not separated)  

Look Up Quiz

Read the following sentences is put an "S" after the sentence if the phrasal verb "look up" has been separated or an "NS" if it has not been separated.  

1)  I always look up words I don't know in the dictionary.  _____

2)  Businesses often look up potential candidates on the internet before hiring them by doing Google searches.   ____

3)  I always look up my research topics through the UMA library system.   _____

4)  If you have a question, just look it up.   ____

5)  Before you take a class, you should look up the course description in the online course catalog.  _____

6)  If you are looking for synonyms to a specific word, you can always look them up in the thesaurus.  _____

7)  Before getting an apartment with a certain landlord near the campus, you should look them up to make sure they are not a slumlord.  ____

Look Up Quiz Answers

1)  NS

2)  NS 

3)  NS 

4)  S

5)  NS

6)  S

7)  S

Look Up Exercise #1

Here are two words.  Don't know their definitions?  Look them up.  In other words, look up their definitions in the  





Look Up Exercise #2

Write two sentences.  One using the phrasal verb "look up" that is not separated and another using the phrasal verb "look up" that is separated by a pronoun.  


1. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________






Look Up -- Another Definition

The phrasal verb "look up" can also mean "to get in contact with" or "meet up with" when  visiting the same geographical location as another person.  


For instance, "If you ever visit San Francisco, look me up."  In this case, the speaker lives in San Francisco and ask the person they are speaking with to meet up with them or contact them if they ever visit San Francisco.  

Look Up Exercise #3

Write one sentence using the phrasal verb "look up" to mean in the previous definition discussed--"to see someone when visiting their hometown."  


1. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Look Up -- Yet Another Definition

While "to look someone up" could mean to contact or visit them when you are passing through their area, it can also mean to research someone or find out information about them.  

Consider the following dialogue: 

"I am writing my paper about Rachel Carson."  

"Who is Rachel Carson?"

"Oh, she is perhaps the most important environmentalist or the 20th century."  

"Oh really, I will look her up."  

In this case, the second speaker does not know about Rachel Carson and will "look her up" or research her, find out more information about her.  That could take place through a Google search or a visit to the library or whatever method the speaker chooses.  


This dynamic does not always have to occur with a public figure though.  It could take place in a more localized, social setting.  Consider the following dialogue:  

"Where did you get that bracelet?"

"I got that from Aisha."


"Aisha Mohammed."

"Who is that?"

"She's another student here."

"Really? I don't know her." 

"Oh, you can look her up on Facebook.  She has an account.  I'm friends with her."  


In this case the third party--the person outside of the conversation--is unknown by one of the two people in the conversation and so she can be "looked up" or "found" on Facebook.  


So you can "look someone up" or "look up information" on someone or something.  It does not just have to be a person.  It could be a fact or a piece of information.  


Consider the following: 


"I am looking for an apartment for next year.  But I can't find anything housing is so bad right now--and so expensive."

"You should come live in my apartment building." 

"Where is that?"

"Village Park University Nice and Affordable Apartments."  

"And they it's a nice place to live?"

"Of course, there are a lot of good reviews; their overall rating is great.  They have a great reputation.  You can easily look it up online."  

"And the application and rent prices?"

"You can look that up online too.  It's very easy.  A simple internet search will do the trick."   


So whether a person or a piece of information, you can always find out more by "looking them up."  

Look (someone or something) Up Activity

Find a friend or classmate to practice one of the above dialogues with.  Or develop your own dialogue using "look up" to mean "find out more information" about someone or something.  If you feel like sharing, we would love to see your performance!  

Look Up (For) Definition

There are many different ways to use "look up."  By add "for" at the end to create the phrase "look up for," you create another entire meaning:  "improved prospects" or "getting better."  

For instance:

I was doing poorly in math class at the beginning of the semester, but once I started using the university's great tutoring services, things began really looking up for me in that class.  

In the previous sentence the speaker started the course off poorly before improving their performance as "things began really looking up for" them. 

Consider the following example: 

Last year, I was at a job I didn't like and really did not know what I wanted to dedicate my time too.  But now that I have joined the vet tech program and made a lot of good friends and connections, things are starting to look up for me.

"To look up for" does not always need to be used for the speaker themselves; it could refer to someone else.  

He was going through a tough time last year as he ended a relationship and lost his job, but at lot of positive development have happened in his life in recent months and things are looking up for him.  


Maybe you were struggling with aspects of your English, like all of these crazy variations of phrasal verbs, but through wonderful university resources and your hard work, things are really looking up for your English language skills, especially in regards to certain phrasal verbs.  :) 

Look Up (To) Definition

There is yet another way to use the phrasal verb "look up".  By adding "to" to form "look up to," a meaning of respect or admiration is created.  When you "look up to" someone to respect them, you see them as a role model or someone worthy or admiration and perhaps emulation.  That is a common meaning of "to look up to."  

But "to look up to" can always literally mean "to look up to something that is higher than you." 

So you could look up to the sky.  Maybe you admire the sky or maybe you don't.  But it is literally above you so you are literally looking up to it.  

You could also look up to the top shelf because it is above you.  It is less likely that you admire the shelf itself (unless it is unusually amazing craftmanship; in that case, you make look up to or respect the woodworker who made the shelf in the first sense of phrasal verb "to look up to" we discussed here).  

You could look up to the top of a snow bank and think "how I am going to shovel my way out of my driveway before class Monday?"  In this case, you are literally looking up to the ridiculously high pile of snow that has accumulated in front of your driveway during a Maine snowstorm.   

Look Up (To) --"To Admire" Sentence Examples

Here are some example of "to look up to" meaning "to admire" or "to respect."  

I look up to most people older than me because I have respect for my elders.  


I look up to people who work hard, regardless of their profession.  


I look up to anyone who smiles and is happy even when they have had a bad day.  


I look up to those who learn English as adults, because it is not easy.   


I look up to people who spend their weekends volunteering and helping others.  


I look up to students who study hard and try their best, regardless of what grades they earn.  


I look up to students who are not afraid to ask questions during class.   


I look up to students who come to class on time.  


I look up to instructors who come to class on time.  

Look Up (To) -- Literal Meaning Sentences Examples

Here are some meanings of "to look up to" in its literal meaning of physically looking up to something. 

I look up to the sky when I want to see the weather.  


I look up to see if the light is still on before I get out of the car.  


I have to look up to talk with the basketball players because they are so much taller than me.   


I look up to the clock to see what time it is when I feel the sun shining through the windows in the morning.  


I look up to the North Star to guide me home after class at night--but then I remember my car has GPS, so I just end up using that.  

Look Up (To) Quiz

Read the following sentences and put a P at the end if the phrasal verb "to look up to" means to physically, literally look up to in that instance.  Write an A if "to look up to" means "to admire" or "to respect."  

1.   I looked up to the cereal I wanted on the top shelf before decided to pick a different box within my reach.  _________

2.   When I heard the door open above me, I looked up to the top of the stairwell to see who it was.   _________

3.  I look up to the University's janitors because I see a lot of students, faculty, and other staff leaving messes everywhere.  _________

4.  I look up to the students who use these instructional materials because it is not easy to find extra time to learn and practice these concepts.  ________

5.  A lot of people look up to celebrities, but I look up to my parents because they did a good job of raising me and encouraging me to pursue my education and dreams.   ___________     __________

6.  Most people are taller than me, so I literally have to look up to almost everyone if I want to look them in the eye.   ____________


Look Up (To) Quiz Answers

1) P

2) P

3) A

4) A

5) P/P

6) A 

Look Up (To) Activity

Write one sentence using the phrasal verb "to look up to" in its literal meaning of looking up to something that is physically above you:


1. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



Write one sentence using the phrasal verb "to look up to" meaning "to admire" or "to respect": 


1. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Look Up (To) Additional Resources

Here are a couple of good video we recommend on the phrasal verb "to look up to":





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