#37 Heads Up or Head Up? – transcript

Heads up or head up. Have you heard either of these two phrases? Have you heard both of them? Even though they sound so similar, did you know they have totally different meanings? If not you are probably not alone, but in business, the difference between these two phrases can be important. So this week let’s look at head up and heads up.

I’m Paul Preston from VenturEnglish this is 3 Minute English, a podcast in English about English for English learners. 

So here’s a little quiz for you. If I ask you to lead a project team at work will I ask you to a) head up the team or b) heads up the team? If you said a) “Head up the team” you win the point. To head up is a verb that means to lead, supervise or manage. 2 episodes ago I talked about adding “up” to verbs to give a feeling of maximum or completion. This is one of those verbs. The idea is you are in the lead or at the head of the project team. This is a phrase we use a lot in business when talking about teams and projects. Of course, if you are asked to head up the project it can be a real compliment, but it can be a real headache too! 

Well if “to head up” means to lead something, what does “heads up” mean? Could it mean two people will lead a project? After all, two heads are better than one, right?  Well no actually. Yes, heads is the plural form of head, but “heads up” isn’t about leading anything. It’s actually a way to say “be careful!” Or “pay attention!” Heads up comes the idea that you need to look up in order to see dangerous things around you.  So heads up is an exclamation, but through the years it has also become a noun and a verb. So often in business, we can give our boss a heads up. That means we tell him about something so he can be ready or prepare for it. We might even be warning him about something. Well, that’s the noun form of heads up. But it has also become a verb. 

Remember that quiz I gave at the beginning of the podcast. “Head up the team”, was the answer right? But I can also say “Heads up the team.” What do you think that means? You probably already have it figured out. To “heads up” someone means to give them some warning, or important information that they will need. So when you use heads up as a verb it means give necessary information or warning to someone. But heads up is not really a proper verb in the usual sense. It’s slang really but used a lot in business. So, unlike head up, which is a standard phrasal verb, heads up doesn’t ever change form or tense. In fact, it’s commonly used with the future auxiliary verb will. As in I’ll heads up the team tomorrow. 


Lots of information on head up and heads up. But these phrases are pretty common in business and you’ll probably hear both of them a lot. Try to use them next time you discuss a project.

Thanks for listening. If you have a question or just a comment, send me an email from venture english.com. We spell it a little different so check the spelling on the graphic. While you are there have a look at some of the new things we’re setting up. Oh and please take a moment to rate the podcast in the iTunes store. It helps a lot to reach more listeners. I’m Paul Preston and this has been 3 Minute English.

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