Depending on the context, do you know which is the right word – choose vs select vs pick?
Are they interchangeable? Do they mean the same? If they don’t mean the same, what makes them different?
It’s been quite some time since I have been struggling to find the perfect answer to these questions. And this is a question that has regularly popped up whenever I am writing UX copy, and or involved in any part of my own content creation process.
Spoiler alert: I haven’t found the perfect answer yet, but have tried my best to make it as clear as possible in different contexts..
For the sake of this blog post, the discussion around which is the right word to use – choose vs select vs pick, is based on their usage on digital platforms. On blogs, video games, websites, signup forms, event registrations, software signups, etc.
And please remember, this is not a definitive answer. The English language is such that these words are regularly used interchangeably and still make sense.
So, whether you choose to believe me or not, or select my name into the list of weirdos on the internet, I promise you that this is not a fight I chose to pick.
Choose commonly implies that it is both an act of judgment, and the actual act of ‘choosing’.
The choice is usually made freely and after consideration.
Select is generally only used when there are finite options and the selected option is more definitive.
For example, in a web form asking your gender, it wouldn’t ask you to choose your gender. It always says ‘select gender‘. Because the answer is definitive and not something you can simply choose.
The options to be selected are from a specific group. Also, select is a more formal word. And hence is more prominent on digital platforms.
Pick is a quite informal word and is usually used in a physical perspective.
For example, when you have to pick a dress up from the dry cleaners.
When you have to pick your kids from school.
Picking apples from the orchard.
Examples and comparisons
Take a look at a few examples below.
Mortal Kombat example
This is from the age-old Mortal Kombat game. It asks you to choose your fighter because you have a set number of open choices from which you have to make your choice.
You have to take the decision of whom to choose and then make the actual choice (click on the fighter’s avatar). Hence the word choose.
Avatar creation app example
Take another example.
This is from an avatar creation app.
Look at the second screen – choose your style.
Why does it say choose? Because you can choose anything that you like.
If you had to create a realistic impression of yourself (which is factual and more definitive), then it would ask you to ‘select your style’.
But here, you can go crazy. Have long yellow hair or short violet one. Doesn’t matter. It’s just about what you choose.
NBA 2K20 game example
See this screenshot from the NBA 2K20 game.
You can see that it uses both choose and select.
Because both the words are used in a different context.
It asks you to ‘choose your skill breakdown‘ because there are a lot of finite ways of doing it. You are making the judgment of which skill breakdown to choose, and then you go on to select it.
For the second action, it is select because your option is definitive, and the only way of progressing further is to actually select it.
So, you choose your skill breakdown from a range of options. And then once that choice becomes definitive, you select to progress further.
Product registration forms
Hope by now it’s clear when we use select. When the options are more definitive. That’s why most options you see online or on digital platforms have select.
See the below examples from Optimizely’s and Hubspot’s registration form.
You can see how they use select whenever a selection has to be made that’s more decisive.
To summarize the choose vs select vs pick argument:
Choose can be something vague and indefinitive. It is both an act of judgment, and the actual act of ‘choosing’. e.g. Choose your style (in a avatar creation app).
Select is more about an existing fact. What you ‘select’ is more definitive. e.g. Select your gender (in a web form).
Pick is a physical action. e.g. Pick apples (from the orchard).Choose vs Select vs Pick. Choose is both an act of judgment & the actual act, eg. Choose your avatar (in an app). Select is more definitive, eg. Select your gender (in a form). Pick is a physical action. eg. Pick apples. Click To Tweet
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Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash