"Conjure" vs "conjure up"


What's the difference between the two? Example:

I conjured a random number.

I conjured up a random number.


Posted 2015-10-09T15:33:30.957

Reputation: 5 741



By itself, conjure means to cause something to appear by magic (literally), especially by a magic incantation. For example, "Faustus conjured a demon."

Conjure up can mean the same thing, but more often suggests that you're using conjure metaphorically to describe producing something in a more prosaic way, like inventing or improvising or randomly choosing something. It also suggests producing it quickly and unmethodically.

This works by analogy with many other phrasal verbs where up is added to some weightier verb to "lighten" its meaning and/or suggest producing something immediately or carelessly, like these:

  • whip / whip up (whipping cream is a laborious activity; "whipping something up" suggests making something, like something to eat, quickly using whatever ingredients happen to be available, with little effort)

  • make / make up (to make something is to produce it, usually suggesting skill or deliberation; to "make something up" is to invent or improvise something purely from imagination, suggesting very little deliberation and/or no basis in fact)

  • turn / turn up ("whatever turns up" means whatever arrives, without much planning or control)

  • show / show up (to "show" something is to demonstrate it, usually to an attentive audience; to "show up" is merely to appear, as in "Let's see who shows up at school today")

  • meet / meet up (both mean the same thing, but the latter is less formal, suggesting meeting unexpectedly or meeting briefly)

I take the up in these phrasal verbs to suggest lightly flicking one's hand upward, tossing things into the air in front of you, letting them assemble into whatever they happen to make—or else something appearing just now, coming "up" into your field of vision.

(Of course up builds phrasal verbs in other ways, too.)

Ben Kovitz

Posted 2015-10-09T15:33:30.957

Reputation: 25 752

I would say that the first form, "Faustus conjured a demon" is archaic, or very nearly so; I'd be surprised to see it used in a modern text. (But perhaps that's culture-dependent?) – Harry Johnston – 2015-10-09T21:55:46.683

@HarryJohnston It's still in use, still carrying its occult denotation even though occasion to use it literally is rare. Here's a Salon headline from this year. Here's a reddit post from August. I think Faust and The Tempest have done a lot to keep "conjure" echoing through the centuries.

– Ben Kovitz – 2015-10-09T22:11:08.753


When used with a verb "up" sometimes means completeness of the action.

He ran to me. - relates that "he" moved rapidly only, no result.
He ran up to me. - relates that "he" moved rapidly and was then close to me.

In your case "conjured" designates the process. The phrase verb "conjured up" designates the completion of the process.

Of course, "up" can simply mean direction, like in "I looked up", in which case "up" is an adverb, or like in "I looked up the street", in which case it's a preposition.

Victor Bazarov

Posted 2015-10-09T15:33:30.957

Reputation: 8 285


If you make something appear as if by magic, you can use the verb conjure or the phrasal verb onjure up. There's no difference in meaning such as he conjured (up) coins from behind people's ears.

However, if you make an image, picture, feeling, or memories of something appear in your mind , you normally use the phrase "conjure up".

So it's more appropriate to say " I conjured up a random number".


Posted 2015-10-09T15:33:30.957

Reputation: 26 261

when you say " I conjured up a random number", do you mean "I make up a number , like a telephone number" or " I remembered a random (telephone) number among my colleagues, like I chose one of them" – Mrt – 2015-10-09T17:54:09.203

As conjuring is a "magical" process, it can create objects that have no relationship with ordinary processes. This language contrasts with a number that might have been "remembered", "selected", or "chosen", and implies that even the person responsible might not understand why that number was thought up. – BowlOfRed – 2015-10-09T19:20:47.980