In general, “give up” implies a sense of defeat or surrender. It may seem to always be used in a negative sense, but whether it is used in a positive or negative way really depends on the context.


1.   “Give up (something)” – (separable) To stop a habit or things that you do regularly.
  • “Eve was finally able to give up smoking.”
  • “He gave up his job when it became too competitive.”
2. “Give up (something)” – (inseparable) To stop thinking or believing something.
  • “They waited ten years and almost gave up hope.
  • “Don’t give up believing. Your dreams will eventually come true.”
Similar phrasal verbs: “Give up” or “Give up on”

“Give up on” means “to lose faith or to stop thinking or believing something.” This is more common and preferred.

  • “They almost gave up on having children.”
  • “Preachers will often encourage their congregation not to give up on their faith.”
3. “Give up” – (intransitive) To surrender or admit defeat.

There are several situations where this might be used.

a. To admit defeat in a match with an opponent.
  • “It’s important to know when to give up in a chess match.”
  • “They realised they were in over their heads and gave up before the end of the game.”
b. To stop guessing, usually after a few attempts.
  • “I haven’t given up yet! Give me another clue.”
c.   To stop making an effort before completing something, usually because it is too difficult.
  • “You can’t just give up when things start to get challenging.”
  • “Wally finally gave up trying to finish the project. There was just too much red tape.”
4. “Give up (somebody)” – (separable) To offer someone to be arrested by the police or authorities.
  • “The burglar gave himself up to the police when he ran into a dead end.”
  • Give yourself up! You are surrounded!”
5.   (separable) To stop owning or give away something you own.
  • “We had to give up our dog when we moved overseas.”
  • “She gave her seat up to the old lady on the bus.”
a. (separable) To use your time time doing an activity instead of another.
  • “Being ambitious shouldn’t mean giving up previous time with friends and family.”
  • “I didn’t give up my precious free time so that you can be lazy!”
6.   To abandon (oneself) to a particular feeling, influence, or activity.

To me, this is usually used in a disapproving way.

  • “Don’t bother. He’s given himself up to his own melodramatic despair.”

Related expressions

Give up the idea of (something)”
– To decide not to do something you had previously decided to do.

  • “He had given up the idea of starting a family.”
  • “They gave up the idea of starting their own business and looked for jobs.”

Give up the ghost
– To die or stop working, especially machines.

This is still a fairly well-known expression even though I think this is not that commonly used nowadays. It has its origins in the Bible to refer to people dying. Nowadays, we use it to talk about machinery that has stopped working.

  • “The printer gave up the ghost just before my assignment was due.”
  • “It’s no use. It’s given up the ghost.”

Original post: 10 December 2020