Make Your Editor Cry: Back Up vs. Backup

Make Your Editor Cry:  Back Up vs. Backup

The single word “backup” is a noun, often attributive, that can mean something that serves as a substitute or support, or musical accompaniment, or additional personnel who provide assistance, an accumulation caused by a stoppage in the flow, or a copy of computer data such as a file or the contents of a hard drive. The important thing to remember is that a “backup” is a noun.


I brought an extra pencil for backup.
We had a backup plan.
Her song depended on guitar and piano backup.
The lone police officer called for backup.
There was a [traffic backup, plumbing backup, grain elevator backup] that caused some problems.
I made a backup copy of the file.

As two separate words, “back up” can literally mean a noun back (like of an animal) that is raised. Or, each word can perform their own separate functions where back is synonymous for again and up indicates a direction of travel.

The cat put its back up and hissed.
He slowly got back up on the stool.
I decided to head back up town toward the park.

Otherwise, in any other use, the two-word phrase “back up” is an activity, and serves as a verb. Variant tenses are backs up and backed up.

The intransitive verbback up” means to accumulate in a congested state.


The traffic back up before the exit stalled travelers for miles.
He used the drain snake before the clog could back up the pipes even more.

The transitive verbback up” means to move into a position behind (such as a teammate) in order to assist on a play or to make a copy of some work or copies of all the files on a device.


I need the blockers to back up the kicker.
Be sure to back up your work regularly.
This program is set to automatically back up your entire hard drive.

One note is that if you back up your hard disk drive, you have created a backup.

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