I will repeat the important part for clarity: "backup" is not a verb. It's simply not.
This site is dedicated to educating people about the common misuses of words like "backup." It is meant for both non-native speakers who may not know any better, and for native speakers who should know better but don't. It is in no way a substitute for a real education. Poor grammar is an excellent way to make any presentation sound stupid --or program look sloppy-- so if you intend to use this language much then it behooves you to learn it properly.
For clarity, I need to point out that this has nothing to do with verbification,
or "verbing." It is completely natural for nouns to become verbs and verbs
to become nouns; the problem this site addresses is the manner in which
that happens for a particular category of word or phrase. This is not an
attempt to arrest the evolution of the language, but to correct mistakes.
It is possible to conjugate verbs. They can change tense and mood. They can
change number and person. You will see how even basic conjugation fails for
Here are some examples with the verb "conjugate." If you doubt that
"conjugate" is a verb (or need to look up what it means), definitions from
agree. Note that, as with many verbs, noun forms exist. Here we're using
the verb form.
Conjgate is a regular verb, so the present tense is simple. Consider the past tense:
The past tense is easy to form with a weak verb like "conjugate." This is normal behavior for a verb. English has more complicated verbs, like irregular and strong verbs, but those are generally the oldest verbs in the language. New verbs are regular and weak.
Notice the problem with the third person singular. However, let's choose to ignore this problem for now. After all, we can't let one little conjugation problem make thousands of programmers and technical writers look like fools. Plowing right ahead, we'll look at the past tense:
Unfortunately, not a single one of those sounds right. It seems that
"backup" can't change tense or conjugate like a normal verb.
A Strong Verb?
Many older verbs are strong verbs, meaning they change tense by modifying
an internal vowel or diphthong. As you will see, it doesn't behave like
a strong verb, either. Compare the above behavior to the strong verb "sing:"
|I sing||I sang|
|I run||I ran|
|I meet||I met|
A Separate Verb?
Some grammarians will call this a "phrasal" or "two-part" verb, but this is
mostly because some grammarians are seeking tenure at their university posts
and must publish anything they can to get or keep that coveted teaching spot.
Similar motivation has created definitions for "compound verbs" and "stretched
verbs" --all different kinds of verbs, supposedly. Essentially, though, a
two-part verb must have two parts and backup only has one. The following
list of backup's component parts demonstrates this fact.
|1st||I||back up||we||back up|
|2nd||you||back up||you [all]||back up|
|3rd||he/she/it||backs up||they||back up|
The past tense is also predictable:
|1st||I||backed up||we||backed up|
|2nd||you||backed up||you [all]||backed up|
|3rd||he/she/it||backed up||they||backed up|
|Owned||I have a book.|
|Modified||I have a secret book.|
I own the book, then make it a secret book. Truly, that is grand. Now I will do the same for "backup."
|Owned||I have a backup.|
|Modified||I have a secret backup.|
"Backup," it seems, works as a noun.
"backup" is not a verb. It's simply not. If it is any part of speech
at all, it is a noun. While we did not explore every possible part of
speech, we saw with certainty that
"backup" is not a verb. It's simply not.
If you take only one thing away from this page, take that one fact:
"backup" is not a verb. Educate others. Correct manuals, software, and web pages as
you find them. Tell everyone you know that
"backup" is not a verb. You
will make a pedant (me) happy. You will earn the respect of grammar nazis.
Most importantly, you will know the truth.
Magnanimousness demands that I offer solutions, or correct forms of some of
the common abuses of
"backup" Here are some suggestions, assuming you prefer
"backup" as a word rather than take a more conservative approach and insist the
proper form is
"back up" or "back-in."
|Can you backup?||Can you back up?|
|I tried to backup . . . .||I tried to back up . . . .|
|Enter your name at the backup prompt.||(This is acceptable)|
|Please backup again.||Please back up again.|
You can also continue your education by learning about other words that are not verbs.
For entertainment you can read a sarcastic rebuttal to the argument that backup really is a verb and the language simply has evolved.
Thanks to Mark Pettit for the corrections to the "checkout" page.
Thanks to Nathanial Jones for the observation of phrasal verbs.
Thanks to someone whose email I deleted before I could record his name for his suggestion to add a note on prepositions.
Thanks to John Goodman for the correction on "carryout" in the index.
Thanks to several people on MetaFilter for observing I need to clarify that the site is not about "verbing," just about correct use of a word/phrase.
Thanks to Andrew Dunbar for slowdown and splashdown.