Have you ever upset the applecart? Tim Bowen touches on a touchy piece of word grammar.

Upset is most frequently found as an adjective but it can also function as a verb and a noun. If you are upset, you are very sad, worried or angry about something, as in ‘They were too upset to talk about the incident’. If your stomach is upset, you have an illness that is usually caused by something you have eaten or drunk, as in ‘Phone and tell them you’ve got an upset stomach’.

Upset is also an irregular verb, with no changes in form in the past simple or past participle. Apart from making someone sad, worried or angry, as in ‘You’ve really upset him now’, it can also mean to spoil something such as a plan, as in ‘I’m sorry if I’ve upset your plans for the evening’ or to make something stop working in the normal way, as in ‘A new policy on taxation would upset the political balance of the country’. It can also be used to mean to defeat an opponent who is better than you, as in ‘Wales came close to upsetting Germany in a hard-fought match in Hamburg’. If you upset the applecart, you spoil someone’s plans or arrangements, as in ‘It was all going so well until Colin came along and upset the applecart’.

The noun form of upset is used to describe an occasion when the favourite is defeated in a match or contest, as in ‘Federer’s defeat was one of the biggest upsets of the tournament’. It can also be used to describe an illness affecting the stomach – a stomach upset or a tummy upset.