add up: meaning and explanation

You probably know that the basic meaning of the phrasal verb to add up is related to addition – e.g. Your meal cost $19 and mine cost $15. That adds up to $34. So why is the bill $50?

A more advanced way of using this phrasal verb is to say that a story or a claim is reasonable or believable, or that it makes sense. This is usually used negatively to say that we don’t believe what someone is telling us, because there is something wrong with the story. e.g. His story doesn’t add up. He says that he was at home all evening, but my friend says she saw him in the pub with his friends at 1am. 

If you think that something is suspicious, you can say: Something about this doesn’t add up.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: England (RP)

I’ve that he’s – his doesn’t .

About the sentence

…I’ve got a feeling that he’s hiding something

If you think that someone is hiding something, then you think that they are not being honest, open or truthful about something. They haven’t told you everything. e.g. Jess swears she doesn’t know anything about the break-in, but I think she’s hiding something.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: Scotland

We shock when bill – we hadn’t realised be.

About the sentence

…how expensive it would be…

This is an example of the future in the past. This is when we talk about the future from a past perspective.

This could be a prediction in the past which turned out to be wrong. e.g. I didn’t bring an umbrella because I thought it would be a nice day. Now I’m soaked.

Another example could be a plan that changed, e.g. I was going to visit my family this weekend but my dad wasn’t very well.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: North America

. , .
keep your receipts expenses. It like much, but .

About the sentence

…Make sure you keep you receipts…

The expression make sure you do something or make sure to do something is used to tell someone to be careful not to forget to do something important. e.g. Make sure you read the question carefully before you start writing your essay.

Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • Try to remember a situation, story or claim that you found suspicious. Tell me about it using this phrasal verb. What was it that didn’t add up?

Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash