The Red Pen: “Set Up” vs. “Setup”

We Need to Talk About Grammar is a weekly feature in which I complain about grammatical mistakes I encounter all too often. Feel free to commiserate below, and check out the archives here!


Much like “log in” vs. “login,” “set up” and “setup” seem to be a somewhat modern error, what with our computer setup guides and whatnot.

People who use “setup” incorrectly are likely making the same mistake as those who use “login” incorrectly; that is, they will use it as the verb “to set up,” which is incorrect:

“I tried to setup set up my computer, but the directions were just too hard to follow.”

The verb form is always written as two words. (It’s also never hyphenated. This is another one of my pet peeves: when people hedge by putting in a hyphen where there never should have been one in the first place. Remember, hedging is still wrong, and so are hyphens in this case.)

If you want to use the word “setup,” it should be as a noun (“Your food truck setup at the carnival looked great!”) or as an adjective (“All you have to do is keep clicking ‘continue’ on the setup wizard, it’s not that hard”).

Similar, again, to “log in”/ “login,” the pronunciations of “set up” and “setup” differ pretty significantly. In the sentence “I tried to set up my computer,” most English speakers would put equal emphasis on “set” and “up”; in the sentence above about the food truck setup, most English speakers would put the emphasis on “set” with very little on “up.”

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