The Grammarphobia Blog

Etymological teamwork

Q: A LinkedIn recommendation describes my husband as “the smartest person I have ever teamed with.” I’m pretty sure that should be “teamed up with,” not “teamed with.” Do you agree?

A: Sorry, but we don’t agree with you that the verb phrase “team with” is incorrect.

Yes, the usual phrase is “team up with.” (The Google scorecard: 24.9 million hits for “team up with” versus 9 million for “team with.”) But there’s nothing wrong with the “up”-less version.

Let’s go back to the beginning. The word “team” in its modern sense began as a noun. As far back as the year 825, it meant a set of draft animals; it’s derived from old Germanic sources having to do with drawing or pulling. 

Later, in the early 1500s, the noun was first used to refer to people, either working together or associated in some joint endeavor. (This sense of the noun has given us the sports uses, such as “team player,” from 1886.)  

The verb “team” also showed up in the 1500s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It originally meant to harness or yoke, as a farmer might “team” horses or oxen.

We still use the verb more or less this way, but with things instead of animals.

Today, a woman might “team” a tweed skirt and a silk blouse. A decorator might “team” a plaid sofa and striped curtains. Or a cook might “team” barbecued ribs with cornbread and a salad.

Usages like these were first recorded in the 1940s.

Finally we arrive at the usage that bothers you so much: “team with.”

The OED says this use of the verb, first recorded in the 1930s, appears “chiefly with up,” and means “to join together in or as in a team; to ally oneself or get together with someone.”

That “chiefly with up” notation says it all. Though most of the OED’s citations include “up,” we haven’t seen any usage guide that rejects the “up”-less version.

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