“Fill In” vs “Fill Out” vs “Fill Up”
In this first article of Uber Digests Legal English category or “column” I’ll be discussing the difference between fill in, fill out, and fill up. This is relevant when it comes to legal forms and other legal documents that we may soon be handling. This is especially related to the question: “Should I fill out a form, or should I fill it up?”
Growing up, I’ve always been taught that in completing a form, you are actually filling it out by filling in the blanks contained therein. And if I am placing water into a water container, say a tumbler, I am filling it up.
But then come law school and I encounter some legal provisions like:
Section 14, Negotiable Instruments Law
Sec. 14. Blanks; when may be filled. – Where the instrument is wanting in any material particular, the person in possession thereof has a prima facie authority to complete it by filling up the blanks therein. And a signature on a blank paper delivered by the person making the signature in order that the paper may be converted into a negotiable instrument operates as a prima facie authority to fill it up as such for any amount. In order, however, that any such instrument when completed may be enforced against any person who became a party thereto prior to its completion, it must be filled up strictly in accordance with the authority given and within a reasonable time. But if any such instrument, after completion, is negotiated to a holder in due course, it is valid and effectual for all purposes in his hands, and he may enforce it as if it had been filled up strictly in accordance with the authority given and within a reasonable time. (Emphasis supplied)
And jurisprudence like this:
xxx The material facts are not in dispute. Sometime in April 1969, Carmen O, Lapuz applied with respondent insurance corporation for insurance coverage against accident and injuries. She filled up the blank application form given to her and filed the same with the respondent insurance corporation. xxx (Emphasis supplied)
(Edillon vs Manila Bankers Life Assurance Corporation, G.R. No. L-34200)
The above citations confused me and I actually went back to my English notes from high school and college and I revisited our discussions about the proper usage of these terms. And here’s what my old notes say:
Become or make something full; to make full; to make something full; to make or become completely full
Example: X went to the gas station to fill up his car’s fuel tank with unleaded gasoline.
1. To complete a form or questionnaire with requested information
Example: X filled out a bio-data to be accepted as a janitor.
2. To make or become fuller, rounder, or thicker
Example: X’s body filled out because of too much food.
To act as a substitute or to stand in place of something
Example: I won’t be attending the meeting so will you fill in for me?
In the above notes, it can be seen that all three terms are used to take the place of a “void” or a “vacuum”. But the difference is that, when you say “fill up”, it indicates that you need to place something into a container or a receptacle of some sort so that it could fully contain something, say a liquid. A form is not a receptacle or a container so it would seem that you cannot really “fill up” a form.
When it comes to forms containing blanks, like a bio-data, the appropriate terms to use are “fill in” and “fill out”. When you say “fill in”, you are a substituting a blank into a written word or figure. You are essentially removing the blank. When you say “fill out”, you are removing all the blanks in the form by substituting words for the blanks. Hence, you fill out a form by filling in the blanks.
At any rate, others argue that it is okay to use any of these three terms when it comes to completing a form. “Fill up” may be used because the meaning of the term which is “to complete” is still within the same context as with “fill out”.
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