Sign Up or Sign-Up – What’s the Difference?

English is a versatile language, and hyphenation is one of the most important tools for achieving this versatility. Simply by adding a hyphen, we can string several words together to form new descriptions, or even transform verb phrases into nouns and adjectives.

You can do just this with the phrasal verb sign up, which acts as a noun or adjective when hyphenated.

Many writers, however, aren’t sure of the proper usage cases for these two forms. Misuse breeds confusion, and the rules of hyphenation are not always easy to understand.

That said, let’s take a look at these two words in order to clear them up.

What is the Difference Between Sign Up and Sign-Up?

In this article, I will compare sign up vs. sign-up. I will use sentence examples to demonstrate the proper use of each word, and, at the end of the post, I will also show you a mnemonic device that will allow you to choose sign-up or sign up correctly every time you need to use one of these words.

When to Use Sign Up

sign up versus sign-upWhat does sign up mean? Sign up is a verb phrase. It means to enroll or register for something. One might sign up for intramural sports, a parent-teacher conference slot, or health insurance.

Here are a few examples,

  • “If you sign up for soccer, you cannot do track,” declared Cindy’s mother.
  • “Let’s sign up for marriage counseling!” suggested Barbara.
  • John wants to sign up for his employer’s ethics committee, but he would feel hypocritical, as he has embezzled millions of dollars from the company.
  • The cellphone carrier announced Wednesday that it will throw in a subscription to HBO for free if you sign up for Unlimited Plus, AT&T’s top-tier unlimited data plan. –The Washington Post

Is sign up one word or two? When used as a phrasal verb, sign up is always spelled out as two words.

When to Use Sign-Up

Definition of sign-up definition of sign up definitionWhat does sign-up mean? Sign-up is used as a noun and an adjective.

As a noun, sign-up means the action of enrolling for something.

For example,

  • Soccer sign-ups close at the end of the day.
  • Signs-ups for student clubs are being held in the gymnasium.
  • Thomasson said that he wanted residents to know that the sign-up was for all people in the Sanford community, not just those who live in the town limits. –The Andalusia Star-News

Define sign-up and define sign upAs an adjective, sign-up modifies a noun, usually an object used for registering for things.

For example, a resume workshop might have a sign-up sheet in the student lounge, or a website might have a sign-up page for its email list.

Here are a few more examples,

  • Open enrollment in the company retirement plan is handled through an online sign-up form available from Nov. 1 – 15 each year.
  • Amanda lost the sign-up sheet, so we have no idea who will bring dessert to this month’s employee birthday party.
  • “This job comes with a $500 sign-up bonus,” observed Caitlyn as she browsed postings online.

Is sign-up one word or two? When used as a noun or adjective, sign-up always appears as a hyphenated word. In accordance with AP Style, you should never see sign-up spelled as one word signup.

Trick to Remember the Difference

sign up or signup grammarChoosing between sign up and sign-up is simple since they are different parts of speech.

  • Sign up functions as a verb phrase.
  • Sign-up functions as a noun or an adjective

As a reminder that sign-up is the adjective form, remember that many other hyphenated adjectives exist, like wine-soaked, front-loaded, and burger-munching. The hyphen in this word thus becomes your clue that it forms an adjective.


Is it sign up or sign-up? Both of these words have all the same letters, but their punctuation turns them into different parts of speech.

Here are three easy things to remember about sign-up vs. sign up.

  • Sign up (two words) is a verb phrase.
  • Sign-up (hyphenated) is a noun or an adjective.
  • Neither sign up not sign-up appears as one word.

Proper punctuation dictates that the nonhyphenated sign up is only used as a verb, and the hyphenated sign-up is only used as an adjective. The hyphen, which also appears in other hyphenated adjectives like sixteen-year-old and shabby-looking, is your clue that sign-up is an adjective.

If you need a quick refresher, you can always reread this article whenever you feel the need.