Pick Up Someone or Pick Someone Up?

There are lots of different rules to how we structure sentences, and sometimes there’s only one correct way to do something, even if it might seem like another way makes sense.

Is this the case with “pick up someone” and “pick someone up”, or is it okay to use both?

Pick Up Someone or Pick Someone Up?

It’s appropriate to say both “pick up someone” or “pick someone up”. “Pick up” is a phrasal verb which, in this context, can mean either to physically lift someone off the ground or to collect them and take them to another location.

pick up someone or pick someone up

When the phrasal verb “pick up” is combined with a noun like “someone”, the noun can either be placed between the verb and the participle or after them, like in these two examples:

  • I have to pick up someone from the airport tomorrow morning.
  • I have to pick someone up from the airport tomorrow morning.

Both of these sentences are perfectly grammatically correct! 

“Pick up” is also used as a slang term for engaging romantically with a stranger in the hopes of establishing a connection (however brief it may be) with them. Take a look at these examples:

  • Are you going to try and pick up someone at the party later?
  • Are you going to try and pick someone up at the party later?

The speaker isn’t referring to literally throwing someone over your shoulder. Instead, they’re asking if you’re going to try and flirt with someone. If it goes very well, it could end with you physically picking them up, but that’s not necessarily the goal.

Here as well, the way that you split up the phrasal verb makes no difference to the meaning of the sentence.

Pick Up Someone

To “pick up someone” is a phrase that has a variety of meanings. It can refer to literally picking someone up and holding them in your arms, collecting them from a location, or attempting to ensnare them romantically.

Let’s look at some examples of the phrase being used in all these scenarios:

  • Whenever he gets drunk, he likes to pick up someone small and pretend to be King Kong.
  • My mum asked me to pick up someone for the family reunion, but I can’t remember who.
  • I’m determined to pick up someone tonight; I’ve been working on my chat-up lines.

Pick Someone Up

To “pick someone up” has the exact same meaning as to “pick up someone” and both are grammatically correct.

Switching around the word order is always appropriate and doesn’t alter the nuance of a sentence, so it’s just a matter of deciding which syntax works best for you in whatever context you’re using it.

When you “pick someone up”, this could mean that you’re physically lifting them up or collecting them from somewhere and taking them somewhere else. It could also mean that you’re charming them with your good looks and wit to create a romantic connection.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • If he gets too drunk, he’ll pick someone up and spin them around. Then we’ll get kicked out of the club again.
  • If you’re the only one of your friends who can drive, you’ll always have to pick someone up.
  • I want to pick someone up, but I just don’t know how to flirt!

Conclusion

“Pick up someone” and “pick someone up” are variant phrases that employ slightly different syntax to achieve the exact same meaning. Both are grammatically correct, and they can be used interchangeably.

“Pick up” is a type of phrasal verb with a variety of meanings. It can mean to physically lift something or collect something from somewhere, among a plethora of other potential uses. A change in syntax does little to alter its overall meaning.