Setup vs. set up?

Setup” is a noun that British English spells as “set-up.” The verb phrase “set up” (two words) shares the same spelling for British and American English.

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What is the difference between “setup” and “set up”?

Learning the difference between “setup” and “set up” doesn’t need to be fussy, as their differences are pretty clear-cut. Regardless of how you use these terms, they typically involve the same subjects: preparation, assembly, and structure. The difference is that “setup” is a noun or adjective, while “set up” is a phrasal verb. 

Many writers struggle with these terms because of stylistic preferences between American and British English. But, again, there’s no need to worry. The rules are very simple: 

  • If you live in the United States, spell the noun and adjective “setup” as a single word.
  • If you live in the United Kingdom, spell the adjective and noun as “set-up” (hyphenated compound). 
  • Wherever you live, the phrasal verb “set up” is an open compound (no hyphen). 

What does setup mean?

The single-word version of setup is a noun that means ‘structural composition,’ ‘the outlined process or plan of assembly or preparation,’ or ‘final arrangement.’ For example, 

  • “The setup of New York City enables millions of people to live in close proximity.” 
  • “She has a nice setup in the house.” 
  • “My android setup is more user friendly than my previous Apple phones.” 
  • “If this is a setup, you need to tell us now.” 
  • “It would be strange for housemate setups to resemble nuclear families.” 
  • “The display setup was ready in time for the holidays.” 

There are also times when setup is an adjective that describes something that ‘sets something up’ (like an ‘installer’ or ‘planner’). For example, 

  • “I’m the designated setup person for my parent’s iPads.” 
  • “Where’s the setup guy when you need him?” 

Synonyms

Arrangement, array, chain, configuration, conformation, continuity, design, disposal, disposition, distribution, format, formation, layout, order, ordering, pattern, plan, progression, scheme, sequence, series, structure, system. 

Antonyms

Confusion, disconnection, disjointedness, disorder, disorganization, disruption, upset.

What does set up mean?

Set up” is a phrasal verb that primarily describes the process of planning, creating, and organizing. The most common definitions of “set up” include: 

1. To arrange objects or an environment into specific positions. For example, 

  • “I set up the apartment to be wheelchair friendly.” 
  • “He set the books up to appear color coordinated on the shelf.” 

2. To cause, create, bring about, or found something. 

  • “She set up the company in hopes of starting a tech revolution.”
  • “Will they set up the website, after all?” 

3. To erect or assemble something in an upright position.

  • “They set up a pole so we could spot them from afar.” 
  • “You have to set up the tree in the stand before adding water to the base.”

4. To assemble something (usually with many parts). 

  • “He helped his dad set up the computer program.” 
  • “We need to set up the tent before nightfall.” 

5. To carefully construct a plan for something for a particular purpose. 

  • “You must set yourself up for success.” 
  • “The defendant insisted her husband set her up to take the blame.”

Synonyms

[1] Depose, deposit, dispose, emplace, fix, lay, place, position, put, set, situate, stick.

[2] Author, begin, constitute, establish, father, found, inaugurate, initiate, innovate, institute, introduce, launch, originate, pioneer, plant, start. 

[3] Brace, erect, lift, pitch, prop up, put up, raise, rear, support, upend, upraise.

[4] Assemble, build, confect, construct, erect, fabricate, make, mold, piece, produce, put up, put together, raise, rear, shape. 

Antonyms

[1] Dislodge, displace, relocate, remove, replace, take. 

[2] Abolish, annul, close (down), end, finish, halt, nullify, phase out, shut (up), terminate. 

[3] Demolish, flatten, knockdown, level, raze, tear down. 

[4] Demount, demolish, destroy, disassemble, disconnect, dismantle, dismember, knockdown, pulverize, raze, shatter, strike, tear down.

How to use set up in a sentence?

Since the phrasal verb “set up” consists of a preposition and a transitive/intransitive verb, we can structure the verb phrase in three ways. You can either “set something up,” “set up something,” or “set up” (without a direct or indirect object).  

Published examples include: 

  • “… and yet agencies have set it up traditionally — Republicans and Democrats both — to put it beyond the reach of judicial review.” — Bloomberg 
  • “… she encouraged parents to set up a dedicated learning space for their children.” — The New York Times
  • “They urge people to report package theft so deputies know where to set up next.” — WSAZ News Channel 

How to use phrases of “set up”?

English speakers also use the verb set up in verb phrases like “set up shop” or “set up housekeeping.” In this case, “to set up housekeeping” means ‘to establish one’s living space.’ For example, 

  • “It is that time of year again, when critters try to set up housekeeping under hoods and munch on what is available.” — Chicago Tribune 

Meanwhile, the phrase “set up shop” means ‘to start a business or activity in a location.’ For example, 

  • “[Las Vegas] …has been trying to persuade workers to set up shop there. But would you ever want to work atop a Ferris wheel?” — USA Today

How to use setup in a sentence?

To use “setup” in a sentence correctly, make sure the noun represents something that was/is “set up” (verb). Likewise, if you use “setup” as an adjective, the word needs to modify a noun that can “set up” something.” 

Published examples include: 

  • “After years of slumping at a desk, I’ve started to suffer the aches that come from having a poor workspace setup.” — The New York Times
  • “It is intended to give people a kind of video conferencing setup that colleagues working in offices enjoy…” — The Wallstreet Journal 
  • “Even the setup team’s attempt to shorten the hole 35 yards to 453 didn’t make things much easier.” — NBC Golf Channel 

Additional reading: setup vs. set up

For more grammar lessons related to “setup vs. set up,” check out The Word Counter’s lessons on: 

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between “setup” and “set up” with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: “setup” and “set-up” share the same meaning. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. Which word form shares the same spelling for British and American English? 
    a. Setup
    b. Set-up
    c. Set up
    d. None of the above
  3. The word setup is a ___________. 
    a. Adjective
    b. Verb
    c. Noun
    d. A and C
  4. The word set up is a ___________.
    a. Noun
    b. Adjective
    c. Verb phrase
    d. Adverb
  5. Which word form only applies to British English?
    a. Set-up
    b. Setup
    c. Set up
    d. A and C

Answers

  1. A
  2. C
  3. D
  4. C
  5. A

Sources

  1. Dlouhy, J.A. “EPA Proposes to Give Up Some ‘Guidance’ Power That Critics Hate.” Bloomberg, Bloomberg.com, 18 May 2020. 
  2. KTRK Staff. “Deputies use bait packages to catch porch pirates in Texas.” WSAZ News Channel, WSAZ.com, 11 Dec 2020. 
  3. McKeough, T. “Home Schooling, Simplified.” The New York Times, NYTimes.com, 31 March 2020. 
  4. Oliver, D. “Want to work remotely on top of a Ferris wheel? At this Japanese theme park, you can.” USA Today, USAToday.com, 9 Oct 2020. 
  5. Romine, B. “Hossler on Houston’s 18th: ‘One of the hardest holes I’ve ever played.’Golf Channel, NBC Sports Group, 11 Oct 2019. 
  6. Set up.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  7. Setup.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  8. Tilley, A. “Zoom Targets Prolonged Remote-Work Era as Coronavirus Drags On.” The Wallstreet Journal, WSJ.com, 15 July 2020. 
  9. Weber, B. “Squirrel nesting under the hood again? Get tape.” Chicago Tribune, ChicagoTribune.com, 30 May 2017. “What are transitive and intransitive verbs?.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.