Different meanings of the phrase 'give up'

Published: 24th June 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd June 2013 12:37 PM   |  A+A-

A week ago, I came across the following headline in a leading newspaper — Victor gets bail, asked to give up passport. Is ‘give up’ an appropriate phrase in the headline? What does the phrase mean in the particular context? The context is that hotelier Vikram Agarwal, known as Victor in the betting circle and suspected to be the betting kingpin in Chennai, was asked by the magistrate to surrender his passport to police. The headline doesn’t convey the intended meaning clearly. The verb ‘surrender’ is a better word in the place of ‘give up’ in the headline. Let’s analyse the meaning of the phrasal verb. It has several different meanings. But first, here is a joke:

• A woman had been in the habit of biting her fingernails. Her friend advised her to take up yoga to help her kick the habit. When the friend met her after a month and enquired whether she had given up the habit of biting her fingernails, the woman replied, “Yes, I’ve given up biting my fingernails but now as I can reach my toenails, I bite them instead.”

Yes, the primary meaning of the phrasal verb is to quit something, which has been a habit.  Here are some examples:

• My uncle was a chain smoker for over three decades. At his doctor’s advice he has given up smoking.

• If you want to reduce your weight, you should give up eating chocolate as it contains sugar.

The phrasal verb has a few other meanings such as ‘to stop doing something’, and ‘to stop trying’. Look at these sentences:

• After moving to another place I gave up visiting the orphanage.

• She tried to solve the puzzle several times. Eventually she gave up.

In the first sentence, the meaning of the phrasal verb is ‘stopped visiting the orphanage’ and in the second sentence the meaning is ‘stopped trying to solve the puzzle’.

Another common error most learners of English make is using ‘refer’ as a transitive verb when it should be used as an intransitive verb and vice versa. Look at the sentences below.

• I referred the dictionary.

• Why don’t you refer the notes I have given?

• Abdul Kalaam has referred his teachers in his book.

The three sentences above are incorrect as the verb ‘refer’ has been used transitively. In the sentences ‘refer’ should be used intransitively to make them correct and acceptable. In the first two sentences ‘refer’ means to have recourse as for aid or information and in the third sentence ‘refer’ means to make allusion.

• I referred to the dictionary.

• Why don’t you refer to the notes I have given?

• Abdul Kalaam has referred to his teachers in his book.

As a transitive verb, ‘refer’ has these meanings: 1) to direct for information, 2) to direct the attention of, 3) to bring it to the attention of someone for consideration or decision. For example:

• The teacher referred the students to the encyclopaedia.

• Don’t think the tablet costs only Rs 9,999. The asterisk above the price refers the reader to a footnote and it says ‘Terms and conditions apply’.

• I’ll refer the matter to the principal. After all, he is going to take the final decision.


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