Set Up vs Setup: What’s the Difference?

Set up vs setup. What is the difference?

For those who are getting paid to write, learning to use words correctly is important to get right.

The words setup and set up are sometimes confusing. In one instance, the word is a noun or adjective, but when used as a verb it's written as two words.

How can you keep these two terms straight in your writing? When you learn the difference between them, using them properly gets easier, whether you write in British or American english.

Here is a closer look at setup vs. set up and how to use each term with example sentences.

So put the thesaurus away and let's dive in!

How do You Use the Word Setup?

Setup, as a single word, is either a noun or an adjective. It refers to the way something is arranged or planned. So you would use setup accurately in these phrases or example sentences:

  • The classroom had a custom setup for small group activities.
  • The setup instructions for the desk were confusing.
  • My home office has a setup conducive to productive writing.

Setup used as a noun can also mean a scheme or trick. For example, you might say:

  • The insurance scheme was not legitimate. It was all a setup.
  • The cops created a setup to catch the crook red-handed.
  • The politician was setup by the tabloid journalist, as part of a sting.

These are all proper uses of the word setup, as it is either a noun or adjective.

Adding a Hyphen

It's is common to use setup as a noun or adjective by adding a hyphen to it, as in set-up. 

In the english language, this is an appropriate substitution for setup when used as a noun or adjective.

However, it's far more common to see it as a single word, especially when written by Americans. Some grammar books like Merriam-Websters take exception to this all. 

What Is Another Word for “Setting Up”?

Setting something up, as in arranging it in a specific order or place, is commonly referred to as using a phrasal verb, set up. Here is a closer look at how you can use this phrase properly.

What is a Phrasal Verb?

A phrasal verb is a verb created by using more than one word. In the case of set up, the verb’s meaning is not complete without both words. Thus, it is a phrasal verb.

What Does the Phrasal Verb Set Up Mean?

Set up is a two-word phrase that refers to the action of putting things in place. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “to raise to and place in a high position” or “to place in view” or “to make carefully worked out plans for.” Some examples of this phrase used properly include:

  • Before the party, we need to set up the chairs.
  • The stage crew set up the next scene before the actors took the stage.
  • It was time to set up the stage for the new performer.
  • I set up my office the night before so I can write first thing in the morning.

Sometimes, writers mistakenly put the hyphen in set up when using it as a verb. This is an error.

Set-up always refers to the noun or adjective form and is interchangeable with setup. When used as a verb, the verb phrase is always two words.

Set up vs Setup: The Final Word

Now that you understand the difference between the two terms, using them properly every day should feel confusing. Just remember to clarify your intended particular purpose behind the usage of setup or set up while self-editing.

Use the two-word phrase, with no hyphen, for verbs, and the single word phrase or hyphenated word for nouns and adjectives.

If you're still finding that you slip up on proper use of setup vs. set up, consider using a grammar checker to find and fix these every day errors faster.

Grammarly will catch these errors for you, so you can correct them before you submit your writing to an editor or reveal to a reader.

Here's an example:

Use Setup and Set Up Properly
Here's an example of setup vs set up using Grammarly

In this example, the first setup is a verb, so it should be set up. The computer program Grammarly flagged it as incorrect. The second sentence uses setup correctly as a noun, which requires the single word.

Correcting grammar errors is one way to become a better writer. Whether you're writing British English or American English, Grammarly can help you see word form errors like setup and set up.

Best Grammar Checker

Grammarly is a top spelling, grammar and plagiarism checker. It'll help you find and fix errors fast, and it works everywhere. The free trial is useful too.

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