Pickup vs. Pick Up (vs. Pick-up)

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Word use can be confusing, and evermore so when a word can be used as a noun, adjective, and verb. Compound words often cause the most frustration as you might not be sure if the two words belong together, should be separated, or even if a hyphen is needed. 

Pickup, or pick up, is one such combination that creates uncertain use in both definition and proper spelling. Take a look at our explanation of pickup vs. pick up vs. pick-up and their proper usage. 

Pickup is one word when it functions as a noun or an adjective. Pick up is two words when functioning as a verb. Pick-up, with a hyphen, is sometimes used in the noun or adjective form and is an example of how compound words occasionally evolve as words change their form. 


pickup vs pick up vs pick up

The verb form of the word, pick up, came into use long before pickup or pick-up, although all forms have been used for centuries simply due to misspellings!

The noun and adjective form, referring to a vehicle, is more modern and can be seen becoming more commonly used in their proper use as automobiles made their way into daily life. 

Proper Use and Definition

Let’s take a closer look at their forms and hints to remember how to use them. 

Verb Form

As a verb, pick up literally means to pick something up. It is an action verb and verb phrase with a one-word noun/adjective counterpart. A few other examples of this include runaway and run away, workout and work out, and payback and pay back

To remember how to use this form, think about how you are “picking something up” to help include the space between the two words. 

Noun/Adjective Form

Pickup used as a noun is referring to a truck vehicle in a one-word descriptive term: Pickup. When used as an adjective, it is describing the truck as a pickup. For example, pickup truck. You can also use it to describe other nouns, such as a pickup location or pickup basketball game.

When used with a hyphen, it is proper to use it in the same way. 

Pick up as Past and Future Tense Use

The tense change is shown within the first part of the phrase to highlight past or future use. For example, pick up becomes picked up to designate past events, and picking up to designate future events. 

Examples of How to Use Pickup in a Sentence

Employees typically have to travel to remote villages by motorbike or foot to pick up the goods that Arjuni sells. [New York Times]

The evening is drawing to a close and old Ben decides to impress Mme Lagarde with one of his stock pick-up lines. [Independent]

It’s a struggle to go pick up the essentials and be left with much change from a fifty these days. News.com.au]

Knowing his future was limited, Moore soon took delivery of a very special 1971 Cheyenne pickup truck. [National Post]

Let’s Review

Pick up and pickup are two different words with different meanings. All you have to do is remember which form is which. Pick up means to pick something up, while pickup is an actual vehicle. You can also use pickup as an adjective to help describe a noun. 

If you see it hyphenated or prefer to use it that way in writing, then it refers to the noun or adjective form.