keep up: meaning and explanation

to keep up with somebody/something = to stay level, equal or up to date with somebody or something.

This could often be used in a physical sense. For example, imagine a parent walking quickly along the street with their child behind them. If the child is walking slowly, the parent might turn around and say, “Keep up!”. They want the child to stay level with them, not to fall behind.

This phrasal verb could also be used in a non-physical sense, such as with speech. e.g. He gave me the instructions so quickly that I could hardly keep up.

We can also use this phrasal verbs to communicate the idea of staying up to date with the news or developments. e.g. As a fashion designer, it’s very important that I keep up with the latest trends.

If you say, “I can’t keep up”, it means that it is too difficult or impossible for you to stay at the same level as someone or something. e.g. Technology changes so quickly these days that I can’t keep up anymore.

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: Ireland

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I run with couldn't her.

About the sentence

…I went for a run…

Notice the useful structure to go for a ___ to talk about exercise. e.g. I needed some fresh air, so I decided to go for a run/jog/walk/swim/bike ride etc.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: England (RP)

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speak more – I can't .

Micro-listening #3

Accent: North America

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I keep current affairs watch news .

About the sentence

…I like to keep up with current affairs…

Note that the meaning of to like to do sth is different from to like doing sth.

to like doing sth = to enjoy sth, e.g. I like reading in the garden when the sun is out.

to like to do sth = to do something because it is a preference, habit or tendency. e.g. I like to alternate fiction and non-fiction books.

This means that you might like to do something which you don’t enjoy. e.g. I like to wake up at 6am so I can have a relaxed breakfast.

Extra practice

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

  • When you listen to native speakers or watch a film or TV program in English, do you find it difficult to keep up?
  • Do you like to keep up with current affairs? How?
  • Think of a time when you couldn’t keep up with something – tell me about it using the phrasal verb.