Pickup or Pick Up – What’s the Difference?

Compound words can be one of the most confusing aspects of English for many writers, especially when they can be also be used as separate words in phrases.

Pickup and pick up are an excellent example of this potential for confusion. Between the two forms, they can function as an adjective, a noun, and a verb, depending on context and whether they are compounded.

Continue reading to learn whether you should use pick up or pickup in a given situation.

What is the Difference Between Pickup and Pick Up?

In this post, I will compare pick up vs. pickup. I will demonstrate how each word is correctly used through example sentences.

I will also show you how to use a mnemonic device that will help you choose between pickup and pick up for your own writing.

When to Use Pickup

pickup versus pick upWhat does pickup mean? Pickup can be an adjective or a noun.

As an adjective, pickup usually refers to an impromptu game, like a casual soccer match between friends. It can also describe a type of truck, which has a passenger cab and a bed for hauling things.

Here are a few sentences that use pickup as an adjective,

  • There is a pickup baseball game going on in the empty lot behind the apartments; should we join?
  • I have an old pickup truck that gets terrible gas mileage and only works in reverse.
  • com Inc. on Tuesday said it is launching a new grocery-store pickup service, pushing deeper into brick-and-mortar retail as it moves to capture more of what people spend on food. –The Wall Street Journal

As a noun, pickup refers to the type of truck described above or an electromagnetic device on some record players and musical instruments.

For example,

  • We drove Bessy’s pickup into the quarry and lit it on fire as revenging for dumping Frances.
  • The new Gibson guitars have many novel features, but feature the same pickups the company has used for several years.

When to Use Pick Up

definition of pickup definition of pick up definitionWhat does pick up mean? Pick up is a verb phrase. It has several meanings. One of them is to go and get something, like groceries from the store or food that was ordered online.

For example,

  • Honey, will you pick up applesauce from the store on your way home tonight?

Another meaning is to grasp something and lift it or to clean something.

For example,

  • You need to pick up your room before you play your video games.

Another meaning is to detect something.

  • LIGO is still only about a third as sensitive as it is designed to be, and improvements in coming months should let it pick up signals from deeper regions of space, the scientists said. –The Washington Post

Trick to Remember the Difference

pickup truck or pick-up truckThese terms are easily confused, since they are basically the same words. Pickup is simply a compound of pick up, so the confusion is understandable.

Nonetheless, there are clear usage cases for each of these words. Pickup can be a noun or an adjective, but never a verb. Pick up is a verb phrase, but should not be used as a noun.

You can remember pickup vs. pick up because these terms function the same as other compound nouns and phrasal verbs: kickoff/kick off, makeup/make up, setup/set up, etc.


It is pickup or pick up? Pickup and pick up are two terms that sound the same but are used as different parts of speech.

  • Pickup functions as an adjective or a noun.
  • Pick up is a verb phrase that means to clean or to lift something.