Setup vs Set Up: What’s the Correct Spelling?

Being new to the English language, it can be confusing or a bit difficult to learn the differences between 2 different words or phrases which sound or are even spelled alike. The two phrases (setup or set up) are no exceptions. To fully understand and comprehend these two, it’s important to know and remember the difference by way of learning what they mean in the dictionary. Understanding the usages of “setup vs set up” is of vital importance for using them properly in any given situation. Here are the current dictionary definitions of the words as accurately depicted in English.

What Does Setup Mean?

Setup (noun):

1. organization; arrangement.
2. The current arrangement of being ready or prepared.
3. Present design or anatomy.

Thesaurus definitions of setup include: composition, structure, system, order, organization, or plan.


  • “That go-kart has a weird setup.”
  • “The setup of that house is not safe enough for anyone to live in.”
  • “I know my suit has a weird setup but it’s my suit and I’ll wear it how I
  • “If this setup suits your needs, my staff can arrange another date to continue
    our maintenance.”

What Does Set up Mean?

Now here are the definitions of “set up” according to the English dictionary today.

Set-Up (verb):

1. The action or process of development.
2. At present, constructing or designing in preparation.
3. Currently building.


“I set up my popcorn machine yesterday.”
“Could you please set up the cups to sit 5 inches apart?”
“He set up his car to make a louder noise for when he turns on the
“We’ll set up those curtains for you in a few minutes.”

How to Tell the Difference Between Setup and Set Up

Setup or set up are used on mildly different occasions. They are easy to get confused because they both describe activity in preparation, and can be easy to overlook when the only difference between the two is a space, or lack thereof, between the two words “set” and “up”. However, there’s another subtle yet more crucial difference that’s easy to miss for anyone. The usage of time and purpose.

It’s important to remember when the activity has been or will be accomplished by the individual, and/or the reason for that accomplishment.

Take this one sentence for example:

“The setup of that house is not safe for anyone to live in.”

Here, the house is the subject. Based on this sentence, the subject is already constructed and built. It has an established form and identity in design. So “setup” is used here because this individual is describing this established appearance.

Now here is an example for “set up”:

“He set up his car to make a louder noise for when he turns on the engine.”

Of course, this person definitely did this to his car already so clearly the loud noise is a part of the current “setup” right? Yes but there’s still a reason we use “set up” here instead. It’s because the person explaining this action is referencing this past event as once a present event. This means he’s explaining this in a way that represents the car sound as a current event at one point in the past, because, of course, the past was once a current moment.

“Setup” would be required if the sentence was instead referenced present-day like this. “He likes his car to have a loud setup.”

This sentence is strictly current, or more generalized. This causes the reader or listener to have a base idea for the concept of him having a loud car.

“He set up his car to make a louder noise for when he turns on the engine.” is pointing out the fact that he was doing this. He was in the process of making this a reality.

A Simple Way to Tell the Difference

However, there is a much simpler way to remember the difference between “setup and “set up”. the same difference between “made” and “making”.

Setup = made
Set up = making

“Made” is of course past tense and “making” is present tense. These words shine a light on “setup vs set up” in a clearer way.

Take these two sentences.

1. “I know my suit has a weird setup but it’s my suit and I’ll wear it how I
2. “We’ll set up those curtains for you in a few minutes.”

Sentence number 1 shows the suit to have been made already. past tense. So, this sentence needs “setup” to describe its current state.

Sentence number 2 explains what’s going to take place for the purpose of describing the action. So the curtains are going to be set up.

“Setup” and “set up” have been used in terms of betrayal as well. The difference between “I’ve been set up” and “It’s a setup.” remain the same as the other sentences.
As explained before, one is objectively past and the other is generally present. “I’ve been set up.” explains something that has been done. Something actively accomplished. Whereas, “It’s a setup.” is generalized into something noticed in general. Something presently observed. Where, when, how, who, or why may or may not be known. Therefore, the only current explanation is what happened. Obviously, it is a setup.


The differences feel slim but simply put, “setup” is a noun and state of fact in describing a design. “Set up” is a verb and is used to describe the activity for preparation. These English terms become more clear with use.

This post was proofread by Grammarly. Try it - it's FREE!

Capitalize My Title is a dynamic title capitalization tool used to make sure your titles or headlines use proper capitalization rules according to various style guides include APA, AP, MLA, and Chicago. It also counts your words and checks for grammar issues.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here