Blow up (inflate, explode)

ch01_kelly

Senior Member
spanish
These are two meanings of the phrasal verb "blow up"

1- Explode
or cause to explode. For example,
The squadron wastold to blow up the bridge , or Jim was afraid his experimentwould blow up the lab

2- Inflate,
fill with air, as in
If you don't blow up those tiresyou're sure to have a flat .

My question is, aren't they contradictory or confusing in some cases?
For example, if someone says this:

I went to the tire repair shop and the man blew up one of my tires.

In this case, is he saying that he inflated one of his tires or that he made it explode...?

Thank you for any help.
 
  • henrylee100

    Senior Member
    Russian
    he's saying he pumped air into the tire - the meaning follows from the context. It's like the famous psycholinguistics example about the pattern A saw something + ing ....
    When someone tells you that they saw some children playing in the park - you will interpret it to mean that they saw some children in the park who were playing. However, if they tell you that they saw the Grand Canyon flying to California you will understand that they saw the Grand Canyon from the plane while they were flying to California.
    Same principles apply to phrasal verbs, if you tell somebody that your alarm clock went off at 7 am, nobody will think that your alarm clock exploded while if you tell them that a bomb went off at your metro station this morning, few people will think that the bomb just started ringing.
     

    owlman

    Member
    English - United States
    When meaning inflation, I think "blow up" is most commonly used for items you could inflate by mouth, like a balloon, swimming float, air mattress, etc.

    You're right, the example you gave is kind of ambiguous. It's much more common for someone to say "inflated a tire."
    You could say also "pump up" for tires. "The guy at the repair shop pumped up my left front tire."
     

    ch01_kelly

    Senior Member
    spanish
    When meaning inflation, I think "blow up" is most commonly used for items you could inflate by mouth, like a balloon, swimming float, air mattress, etc.

    You're right, the example you gave is kind of ambiguous. It's much more common for someone to say "inflated a tire."
    You could say also "pump up" for tires. "The guy at the repair shop pumped up my left front tire."
    Yes, you are absolutely right. But about balloons...you could say that you were blowing up balloons all afternoon and it would be ambiguous if you were just inflating them or inflating them for too long until they exploded. Am I wrong on this....?
     

    grubble

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree with what has been said. However, in real life conversation we are aware of possible ambiguities. For this reason we choose our words accordingly.

    So, for this reason, we would not say "...the man blew up one of my tires."

    We would say ""...the man inflated one of my tires." or "the man made one of my tires explode."

    Occasionally we do say something ambiguous and then the listener has to ask which we meant.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    But about balloons...you could say that you were blowing up balloons all afternoon and it would be ambiguous if you were just inflating them or inflating them for too long until they exploded. Am I wrong on this....?
    It depends who or what is doing the blowing up. :)

    I blew up the balloon = I inflated the balloon.

    The balloon blew up = The balloon exploded.

    (It's context again!)
     
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