Back Up vs. Backup Your Data: One Word Or Two?

Back up computer to hard driveI know my way around words, punctuation and a keyboard.

And I know how to back up my data.

But my computer technology skills in general leave a lot to be desired.

My screen recently flashed: “Your startup disk is almost full.” With no clue about what to do, I took the easy way out; I called one of my computer-savvy sons.

“Mom, you need an external hard drive,” he said firmly.

I hopped online and, with his recommendation, ordered one. Nothing comes with operating instructions anymore, so when it arrived, I again went online to figure out how to set it up and use it. In seconds, I was perusing my new G-DRIVE’s PDF instruction manual.

Two of the first recommendations, which were followed by how-to instructions, instructed:

Backup Your Data.

Make Two Backups.

So is backup a verb, an action? Or is backup a noun, a thing?

These examples provide clarity:

back up as a verb
When you back up your data, you save it on a separate device.
Please back up your car so I can get by.
If your garbage disposal gets clogged, water will back up into your sink.

backup as a noun
When your backup is complete, keep your external drive in a safe place.
The Green Bay Packers have a backup for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The traffic backup near the stadium kept sports fans in their cars for hours.

Back up / backup isn’t the only word combination people often confuse. Consider these examples:

Please arrive early to set up the conference room.
Setup should be done by 3 p.m.

Guests much check out by 11 a.m.
Checkout time is 11 a.m.

Are you going to help clean up after the meeting?
The cleanup won’t begin until late afternoon.

Please break down the price showing material, labor and profit.
What kind of price breakdown did she provide?

If you stand by for a later flight, you’ll get a free fare.
If your schedule is flexible, flying standby can save money.

Today’s electronic communication lends itself to shortcuts, but don’t cut short your efforts to use standard grammar. Your customer, your boss or your teacher just might notice — and judge you accordingly.

Have questions about word use or punctuation? Ask me!

And watch this space for an announcement soon about Grammar For People Who Hate Rules, and easy-to-use guide that will be available on Amazon this spring.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)