What Does Heads Up Mean?

Heads Up Meaning

Definition: Watch out; advance notice; to be in charge of.

As an interjection, this phrase means watch out.

  • Heads up! Don’t miss the pass.

As a noun, it means advance warning or notice.

  • If you can, give me heads up before you get here.

As a phrasal verb, it means that someone is acting as the head (or person in charge) of something.

  • Mr. Smith heads up this committee. Address all questions to him.

Origin of Heads Up

give me a heads upThe use of this idiom as an interjection dates back to the early 1900s. Over time, however, its use drifted over to its noun form as well.

Examples of Heads Up

In our first example, two young women use the expression in a conversation about their class.

Cassie: Are you going to class soon?

Rebecca: Yeah, I’m just about to go upstairs. Let’s go together.

Cassie: Did you hear about the surprise quiz the teacher is giving us today?

Rebecca: No! How do you know about that?

Cassie: One of my friends gave me a heads up. I’m sorry I forgot to tell you so you could be warned ahead of time.

Rebecca: It’s okay. I think I’m prepared anyway.

gives you a heads upIn the below dialogue, two friends discuss a new group they’ve joined.

Antonio: Do you know who heads up this group?  

Igor: No, sorry. I’m not sure. I heard it’s a lot of fun, though. And apparently the group does a lot of volunteer work, which makes me really excited. (A bird unexpectedly flies at Igor’s head.)

Antonio: Heads up!

Igor: Argh! (Igor dodges the bird.)

Antonio: That was close!

Igor: Thanks for the warning!

More Examples

In the below article, heads up is written with a dash, but it is still being used as a noun to mean an advance warning.

  • York’s assurance that DirecTV would not take the channel without giving the others a heads-up, emboldened them to hold firm against Time Warner Cable. That collusion, according to the Justice Department, did not allow the free market to work — and baseball fans suffered. –LA Times

This article excerpt uses the expression to mean that Mr. Emanuel gave the Governor advance notice about something.

  • Soon after he decided to accept the President-elect’s offer to serve as Chief of Staff in the White House, Mr. Emanuel placed a call to the Governor to give him a heads up that he was taking the Chief of Staff’s position in the White House, and to advise him that he would be resigning his seat in the House of Representatives.  –LA Times


The phrase heads up has multiple meanings but is typically used to give a warning.