en
  • Find tutor

What Does It Mean to Follow Up and When to Use a Hyphen?

Follow up is a phrasal verb that we can use in several contexts. Follow-up can be an adjective that refers to the act of following up.

Valentina Dordevic
Valentina Dordevic

Most people regularly use the expression “follow up” when they talk about something that follows a related action or event to ensure that a previously set goal is fulfilled.

In simple terms, let’s say we expect something to happen, but it requires some active involvement. We’ve made the first step in the right direction, but it hasn’t produced the desired result. Now we need to make the second step, which is a follow-up. We need to follow up on the previous action to make it a success.

As you probably noticed, I’ve just used both hyphenated and non-hyphenated forms of this expression. I used one as a noun and the other as a verb. That’s the whole secret about the use of a hyphen in follow-up.

Let’s see how to use “follow up” as a phrasal verb and “follow-up” as a noun or adjective to make it completely clear.

The Meaning and Use of “Follow Up” as a Verb

Follow up is a phrasal verb that we can use in several contexts. It can mean “to take further action,” “to do something more,” “to find out more,” “to pursue or follow closely,” or “to maintain contact.”

Let’s get to my favorite part — the examples!

In business communication, it’s often advisable to follow up a phone call with an email.
The police officer is following up on some new witnesses.
The researchers followed up with more than 500 people suffering from heart disease.
You know you’re the perfect candidate for that job, but no one is calling you? It’s time to follow up.

The Meaning and Use of “Follow-Up” as an Adjective

Follow-up can be an adjective that refers to the act of following up. We can use it in similar contexts as “follow up” but not the same way. But we can restructure the previous set of examples to see how to use the hyphenated word. The following sentences include follow-up as an adjective.

In business communication, it’s often advisable to write a follow-up email after a phone call.
The police officer is conducting a follow-up investigation of new witnesses.
The researchers included more than 500 people suffering from heart disease in the follow-up study.
You know you’re the perfect candidate for that job, but no one is calling you? It’s time for a follow-up call.

The Meaning and Use of Follow-Up as a Noun

In the sentences above, the adjective “follow-up” modifies a noun: email, investigation, study, and call. But when we are talking or writing to someone familiar with the context, or if the meaning of the follow-up action is self-evident, we can omit these nouns and use follow-up as a noun instead. So, let’s rephrase the examples one more time.

In business communication, a follow-up is often needed after a phone call.
The police officer still hasn’t gathered enough information on new witnesses. He is now considering a follow-up.
The follow-up included more than 500 people suffering from heart disease.
You know you’re the perfect candidate for that job, but no one is calling you? It’s time for a follow-up.

How to Choose Between Follow Up and Follow-Up

The verb doesn’t have a hyphen, but the noun and adjective do. It’s that easy.

And What About Followup

Followup is an ancient and non-standard form of follow-up (with the hyphen). It can be used as an adjective or noun but never as a verb. Anyway, it’s so rare and awkward that it’s completely safe to forget about it.

Perfect High (2015)
Dad's Army (2016)
Operator (2016)
Rust Creek (2018)
EnglishWhich is correct

Valentina Dordevic

Hello! My name is Valentina. Book digesting is my specialty. I transform book ideas into easy-to-follow summaries, articles, study guides, reviews, essays, analyses, slides, or e-books.


Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.

Valentina Dordevic

Hello! My name is Valentina. Book digesting is my specialty. I transform book ideas into easy-to-follow summaries, articles, study guides, reviews, essays, analyses, slides, or e-books.

Beth Taylor

Hello! My name is Beth. I'm from France. I'm a French and English native speaker and I really like writing.