US Highway Billboard English Lesson: Belt Up

If you saw this billboard while driving on the highway, it’s clear that it is meant to remind you to wear a seatbelt (especially if you are in the back seat). To a non-native English speaker, there might be a few questions about the billboard’s short statement: “THE BACKSEAT’S NO SAFER. BELT UP.” What a great opportunity for an English lesson!

belt up

BELT UP

It’s obvious that “belt” refers to seatbelt. But why is “up” there?

Many English phrasal verbs use the word “up.” When “up” is at the end of a phrase, it implies and action or change. To “belt up” means to put on a seatbelt. Here are some other examples:

ball up – put into a ball (ex: I ball up my socks before I pack them in my suitcase.)
back up – take a step backwards (ex: Please back up! You are standing too close to the edge.)
cheer up – get happy (ex: Cheer up! You had a bad morning, but’s a nice afternoon.)
fed up – tired of (ex: I’m fed up with waiting in line. I’m leaving.)
gas up – put gas in your car (ex: I need to gas up before we leave. It’s a long drive.)
shape up – improve (ex: My boss says if I don’t shape up, I won’t have a job anymore.)
slip up – make a mistake (ex: He admitted his mistake and promised not to slip up again.)
suit up – put on a suit (ex: The divers have to suit up before getting into the cold water.)
split up – separate, end a relationship (ex: After 4 years, the couple split up.)
make up – end a disagreement (ex: I’m tired of fighting. Let’s get dinner and make up.)

As you can see, “up” can follow either a verb or a noun. Either way, the phrase functions as a verb.

Question: Can you name more phrasal verbs with “up”?

THE BACK SEAT’S

Why is there an apostrophe here? In this case, “seat’s” is short for “seat is.” The sentence could be written, “THE BACK SEAT IS NO SAFER,” and have the same meaning.

You do not need an apostrophe if you are talking about more than one back seat. For instance, “Back seats are not safer than front seats.” This sentence means that, in general, it is not safer to sit in backseats of cars than it is to sit in front seats.

Question: Is this sentence correct? “The back seat’s my favorite place to sit in the car.”

SAFER

“Safer” is an example of a comparative. The back seat is not safer than the front seat. The billboard is comparing the safeness of the backseat and front seat.

The superlative of “safe” is “safest.” You use this the superlative when comparing the backseat against any and all other seats. Many people think the back seat is the safest place to sit in a car. That may be true, but you still need to wear a seatbelt when you sit there!

Question: Is this sentence correct? “This billboard is the newest one on this highway.”

Bonus Question: What is the name of the device pulling the man out of the billboard? Hint: It’s a toy and is usually much smaller.

View another US Highway Billboard English lesson.