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"Pick up" and "Drop off": Differences, Common Sentences, and Practice Questions (AUDIO included)



"Pick up" and "drop off" are two of the most essential phrasal verbs in the English language. They have multiple uses, and they are closely related because they both deal with going somewhere for a particular purpose. So, what are these separate purposes? What is the difference between "pick up" and "drop off"?


Pick up: to acquire or retrieve something or someone from a particular location and bring it or them somewhere else; or, to buy something.


Drop off: to bring or deliver something or someone to a particular location, and leave it or them at that location.


To start, let's look at two examples each of "pick up" and "drop off":


"I'll pick you up in 15 minutes. Make sure you're ready." (We usually pick people up with a vehicle, typically a car. In this case, "I'll pick you up" means "I'll drive to where you are and then I'll drive both of us to where we planned to go.")


"Could you pick up dinner tonight? I won't have time to cook." (This means "Could you buy dinner tonight and bring it home for us to eat?" The person asking you to do this wants you to order food from a restaurant and bring it home.)


"I need to drop something off at my parents' house before I go to work today." (This means "I need to bring something to my parents' house and leave it there before I go to work today." Another way to understand this usage is to say that "I need to go to my parents' house to give them something which I currently have." Maybe it's something to eat, or maybe it's something that my parents lent me and that I'm now ready to return to them.)


"Who dropped you off at school when you were a kid?" (This means "Who brought you to school when you were a kid?" Basically, who either drove you or walked you to school to make sure you arrived safely?)


To make things a little clearer, we're going to look at "pick up" and "drop off" separately. Before we do that, there is just one important grammar reminder we need to discuss.


Reminder: "Pick up" and "drop off" are both transitive and separable phrasal verbs. "Transitive" means they need an object to be complete. "Separable" means you can place the object at the end or in the middle of the phrasal verb. For example, you can say "I picked some juice up from the store" or "I picked up some juice from the store." The only time you can't put something at the end of a two-word transitive phrasal verb is if you use an object pronoun. For instance, you can say "I'll drop him off at school," but you can't say "I'll drop off him at school."


If that's a lot of information, don't worry. The best way to get better at learning a language and its rules is to see the language in action. So, let's look at "pick up" and "drop off" one at a time, and let's look at some common sentences with each of them.


Pick up

Imagine that you have made plans to see a movie with your friend. The movie theatre is around 20 minutes away from your house by car. Your friend lives close to you, and it wouldn't make sense for both of you to drive. Two common questions you can ask in this context are "Could you pick me up?" if you want your friend to drive to your house and then drive both of you to the theatre, or "Do you want me to pick you up?" if you want to offer to drive to your friend's house and then drive both of you to the theatre. You can also offer to drive by saying "I can drive," "I can drive both of us," "I can pick you up," "I don't mind picking you up," or simply "I'll pick you up."


Let's look at some more examples with this usage. To practice, say them out loud:


"When can you pick me up?"


"Can you pick me up?" (Remember: "Can" is a slightly more informal form of "Could" when you are making requests.)


"I'll pick you up in a few minutes."


"I need to pick up my son from daycare."


"I don't think I can go with you tomorrow. My husband will have the car."

"Don't worry. I can pick you up."


"What time did he pick you up?"


"When did you get picked up?" (This is the passive form of "pick up." You can "be" picked up or "get" picked up. "Get" is more informal in this case.)


"Who's going to pick her up?"


Practice: Who picked you up from school when you were a kid?


You can also pick up things from places. This means you go somewhere to acquire, retrieve, (or "get") something. Let's take a look at three examples.


"Could you pick up the balloons for the party? I've already paid for them. You just need to drive to Party City to get them. They're under my name." (If something is under your name, it means the reservation for something was made with your name.)


"I just realized that I forgot my backpack at Maki's house. I'll text her and tell her that I'll pick it up in the morning." (This means I will go to Maki's house again tomorrow morning to get my backpack.)


"My mom made fresh bread and wants to give some to us. I'll pick it up from her place this afternoon." (This means I will go to my mom's house to get the bread that my mom made.)


Practice: Do you need to pick up anything this week? (For example, money from the bank, or an item from a friend's or family member's home.)


Finally, "pick up" can be a synonym for "buy." When you buy something, you acquire it, so this makes sense. Let's take a look at three examples.


"Could you pick up some milk from the store on your way home? We're all out." (If you are "out of" or "all out of" something, you have no more of it. You can just say "We're out" or "We're all out" if you have already mentioned the item earlier in the conversation, and it is understood what you are referring to.)


"The new Legend of Zelda game was released today. I'm going to pick up a copy tomorrow."


"I need to pick up some shampoo today."


Practice: What do you need to pick up from the grocery store or market this week?


Now, let's move on to "drop off."


Drop off

This one is a little easier to understand. Basically, if you deliver or bring something or someone to a particular location, you drop it or them off. This is usually done with a vehicle--typically a car--but a person can drop something or someone off on foot (meaning, by walking instead of by using a mechanical mode of transportation). Let's look at some of the most common situations with this phrasal verb.


"Oh. My dad asked if he can borrow our ladder tomorrow morning. Can you drop it off on your way to work?" (In this case, your friend or partner is asking you to bring your ladder to their dad's house and leave it there for their dad.)


"Mom, can you drop me off at the mall?" (In this situation, I am asking my mom if she can bring me to the mall. I probably don't have a car or I can't drive in this situation, so I need to ask someone else to bring me.)


"Could you drop me off at the airport tomorrow night?" (This person is traveling somewhere by plane, and they are asking you to drive them to the airport.)


"I dropped my kids off at daycare this morning." (This means I brought my kids to the daycare center in the morning. I probably drove them, but if I live close to the daycare center, it's possible that I walked with them, too. In either case, I brought my kids to daycare to ensure that they arrived safely.)


"Marta said she's going to drop off some baby clothes for us this afternoon." (In this case, Marta is going to come to your house to deliver some baby clothes.)


"Is it okay if I drop you off here, or do you want me to drive closer to the building?"

"Here is fine. Thanks."

"Okay. Have a nice day. I'll pick you up again at 4." (In this scenario, your friend or family member drove you somewhere, and they are also going to pick you up from the same location at 4pm to bring you back home.)


"Can you drop this off at the post office?" (In this scenario, someone is asking you to bring something--probably a letter--to the post office, so it can be mailed.)


It is important to note that some people simply use the word "drop" in these cases, too. For example, "Can you drop this at the post office?" or "Can you drop me at the mall?" Personally, I would use "drop off" for increased clarity, as it is more common.


Practice: Do you need to drop anything or anyone off this week? Whom and where?


Well, that's it! I hope you feel more confident using "pick up" and "drop off" in the contexts above. Let me know how you felt about this lesson in the comments, and practice what you have learned by writing your own examples.


Finally, if you enjoyed and benefited from this resource, and you want to learn more phrasal verbs--and support my work!--please consider picking up a copy of my book, 100 Practical English Phrasal Verbs. It has over 900 example sentences and 20 context-based lessons. Check it out and start making real progress with real language today.

Thank you. Until next time, I wish you nothing but success in your studies!


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