How do we know when to use which, when they convey the same meaning?

The dictionaries say this:

  • Pick - choose (someone or something) from a number of alternatives.
  • Select - to choose (someone or something) from a group
  • Choose - to decide that a particular person or thing is the one that you want


  • I'm doing a test and I don't know which answer to [choose,select,pick]. {Why choose?}
  • I have [chosen, selected, picked] this color because it looks good on you. {Why chosen?}
  • You need to [pick, select, choose] three numbers from 10 to 99. {Why pick?}
  • I have [selected, chosen, picked] two students who will attend the festival today. {Why selected?}


  • I can never select/choose/pick the right answer in this test. {all the three are possible}
  • They're all absolutely interchangeable. Choose, pick, or select whichever one you like.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 11:17
  • @Strawberry In all cases? Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 11:24
  • Yes. They all work. Even if you were asked to 'choose', you might still reply 'OK, I pick...'. I note however that the test is American ('color'). It's possible that American grammarians have certain idiosyncracies not shared by us Brits, but I don't think so - and that's not my experience from having lived there.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 11:27
  • Ha, even before I saw the name, I just knew it was you. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:53
  • 1
    They are all the same, basically. Especially here. No difference with British English. I really get tired of seeing people bring that up when it is not relevant.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:54

5 Answers 5


The three words are almost completely interchangeable.

I read your first couple of examples without realising you'd provided what you thought was the answer, and I didn't pick the same options you did!

  • For the first one (answers in a test) I'd lean towards "select".

  • For the second one (colours which look good on you) I'd use either "picked" or "chose" (NB past simple rather than past perfect... we very rarely use past perfect).

  • For numbers I agree with "pick"; this is just because there is a common phrase "pick a number from {x} to {y}"

  • For students who will attend the festival, I really can't choose which one would be best.

Thoughts on what differences there may be:

  • "Select" is generally only used where there are finite options. If you can only have red, green or blue, you could select one of them; but if you can have any RGB colour from 0-0-0 to 255-255-255 then "choose" or "pick" would likely be more appropriate.

  • "Select" also works well in the imperative, probably as it sounds slightly more formal than "choose" or "pick". Hence "Select from the following options" works well.

  • "Select" also works well with tickboxes (or checkboxes for Americans or IT people), whether they are on paper forms or on your computer screen.

  • "Pick" is quite informal. It works well with complaining: "Hurry up and pick one already!". It's also the most appropriate when you are physically taking an item, due to the (probably) related phrase "to pick something up".

  • "Choose", as per your definition, implies selecting what you want. e.g. "You can choose from hang-gliding, rock climbing or karting" works well; "Choose all the words that are about size" doesn't so much (that should be "Select").

All thoughts above are based on my experience as a native British English speaker.

  • What about "Please [select,pick,choose] the words that aren't synonyms of make"? Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 8:43
  • 1
    I would definitely lean towards "select" (though the others aren't too bad). "Choose" implies "want" (I'll edit this into my answer); "pick" is too informal. "Select" works well with ticking boxes on forms (whether paper forms or computer forms).
    – AndyT
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 8:53
  • 3
    @SovereignSun Computer program user interfaces nearly always use "select" because 1) it has become idiomatic, 2) it is perhaps more formal, and 3) it is generally a request for you (the user) to take an action, not just make a decision.
    – SteveES
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:09
  • 1
    @SovereignSun - Who says we don't pick or choose a character? Google hits gives 628,000 for "select", "pick" beats it with 702,000 [cont...]
    – AndyT
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:27
  • 1
    and "choose" isn't far behind with 584,000.
    – AndyT
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:28

Pick, choose and select can, in general, be used interchangeably.

AndyT beat me to it and provided most of the things I might have said, but I do have a couple of extra comments to add.

Any differences are essentially idiomatic, so there may be some special circumstances where one would generally be chosen over the others. For example, when talking about what to do with check boxes on a form, you may be more likely to use select.

Unfortunately that advice is not that helpful for a general situation, so if there is any generalisation that can be made, it might be this: to choose implies only that a decision has been made, whereas select and pick both indicate an action has been, or will be, taken. E.g

  • "Pick a card" - both choose and then take a card.
  • (In a restaurant) "Have you chosen your order yet?" - have you decided what you will order from the menu

These are just my thoughts based on my experiences, I'm sure there are some situations where "choose" is used to mean also that action has been/will be taken and vice versa with "select" and "pick".


One slightly opposite take to the other answers. Choose is slightly broader. It can mean decide while the other two can only mean decide between.

I can pick, choose or select one of the three words from the list below:

  • Pick
  • Choose
  • Select

but only choose applicable to my decision to answer the question. I could also choose to comment, close the browser, or post funny pictures in the answer box, etc.

Pick and select refer to choices from a closed list. I can pick (or select) whether or not to answer the question because I establish a list of two items (answer, not answer) to select from.

  • 2
    @AndyT that's a good way to put. I'll put your comment in the answer while I'm fixing my grammar!
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 10:25

Very interchangeable words with slight inclinations:

  • Pick - usually to take out of the set (literally or figuratively);
  • Select - identify something as preferable or suitable; mark it as selected, outstanding;
  • Choose - identify something for a future use.

Pick has connotations of taking something, and is also used when removing fruit from trees etc. If someone held a pack of cards fanned out, then you would pick one by both choosing and taking it. Similarly, you sometimes metaphorically use pick where there is something presented to you - in a maths trick you would pick a number because it is similar to picking a card.

Select does not usually have connotations of taking, but often has connotations of changing state; you select a button by pressing it, or select an option by turning a knob, or select an answer by circling it. You might select someone to go to a meeting in your place, or pick someone to accompany you, but the opposite sounds a little off.

Choose is a generalisation of either.

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