Understanding the Idiom: "put up to" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
  • (lead by persuasion or influence): entice, induce, inveigle

When communicating in English, it is important to understand common idioms that are used in everyday conversations. One such idiom is “put up to”. This phrase is often used when someone encourages or persuades another person to do something, especially if it’s something they might not have done on their own.

The origins of this idiom are unclear, but it has been in use for many years and can be found in literature dating back centuries. Understanding the meaning behind “put up to” can help you better comprehend what someone is trying to convey when using this expression.

It’s worth noting that “put up to” can also be used in a negative context, such as when someone coerces or manipulates another person into doing something they don’t want to do. In these cases, the phrase may imply a sense of wrongdoing or deceit.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “put up to”

The idiom “put up to” has a long history that dates back centuries. Its origins can be traced to the English language, where it was first used in literature as a way of describing someone who was being influenced or persuaded by another person.

Throughout history, people have been put up to do things they might not otherwise have done. This could be for various reasons, such as peer pressure, coercion, or simply because they were unaware of the consequences of their actions.

In the 19th century, the idiom began to appear more frequently in literature and other forms of writing. It was often used in stories about young people who were being led astray by their peers or older relatives.

As society changed over time, so did the contexts in which “put up to” was used. In modern times, it is often associated with politics and business, where people may be put up to run for office or take on new roles within an organization.

Despite its changing meanings over time, one thing remains constant: “put up to” is a powerful phrase that speaks volumes about human nature and our tendency to influence one another.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “put up to”

Variations of “put up to”

There are several variations of the idiom “put up to” that you may come across:

  • “Put someone up to”: This variation means convincing or influencing someone else to do something.
  • “Be put up to”: This variation means being encouraged or persuaded by someone else.
  • “Put oneself up to”: This variation means taking responsibility for one’s own actions, even if they were influenced by others.

Usage examples

Here are some common usage examples of the idiom “put up to”:

Example 1:

“I didn’t want to steal the candy bar, but my friend put me up to it.”

Example 2:

“She was nervous about skydiving, but her boyfriend convinced her by putting her up to it.”

Example 3:

“He put himself up for election as class president.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “put up to”


– Encourage

– Incite

– Persuade

– Urge

– Prompt


– Discourage

– Deter

– Hinder

– Dissuade

Cultural Insights:

The phrase “put up to” is commonly used in American English and refers to someone encouraging or persuading another person to do something. This could range from something as simple as trying a new food to something more serious like committing a crime. It is important to note that while this phrase may seem harmless in some contexts, it can also be used negatively when someone is being coerced into doing something they do not want to do.

In some cultures, such as Japanese culture, there is an emphasis on indirect communication and avoiding direct confrontation. Therefore, phrases like “put up to” may not be as commonly used or understood in these cultures.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “put up to”

In order to fully understand and incorporate the idiom “put up to” into your vocabulary, it is important to practice using it in various contexts. The following exercises will help you gain a better grasp of this phrase and how it can be used in everyday conversation.

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank

Using the context provided, fill in the blank with the appropriate form of “put up to.”

Example: I can’t believe he ____________ stealing from his own company.

Answer: was put up to

1. She ____________ going on that rollercoaster by her friends.

2. They ____________ lying about their whereabouts by their parents.

3. He ____________ quitting his job by his wife.

Exercise 2: Role Play

In pairs or small groups, take turns role-playing scenarios where “put up to” could be used. Try using different tenses (past, present, future) and forms (passive voice).

Example scenario:

Person A: I don’t know why I did it…I guess I just felt pressured.

Person B: Who put you up to it?

Other possible scenarios:

– Person A got a tattoo they regretted

– Person A skipped school/work

– Person A lied about something important

Past Tense Present Tense Future Tense
A: A: A:
B: B: B:

Exercise 3: Writing Prompt

Write a short story or paragraph using “put up to” in a creative way. Try to use the idiom in a unique context and incorporate it seamlessly into your writing.

Example prompt:

Write about a group of friends who are always getting into trouble because they keep putting each other up to doing crazy things.

Remember, practice makes perfect! Keep using “put up to” in different situations until it becomes second nature.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “put up to”

Firstly, one mistake people make is using the wrong preposition after “put up”. For example, saying “I put him into trouble” instead of “I put him up to trouble”. The correct preposition after “put up” is usually followed by an infinitive verb or a noun phrase.

Another mistake people make is not understanding the meaning of the idiom. “Put up to” means persuading or encouraging someone to do something they might not otherwise do. It does not mean physically putting someone somewhere or helping them with something.

Lastly, another common mistake is misusing the tense of verbs when using this idiom. For example, saying “I was putting her up to go on vacation last week”, instead of saying “I put her up to going on vacation last week”. The correct form should be past simple tense followed by an infinitive verb.

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