Take your pick! (Words and phrases for choosing things)

by Kate Woodford

Guido Mieth/Moment/GettyImages

This week, we’re looking at the many different ways we talk about choosing things. We’ll cover both one-word synonyms and phrases. As you might expect, this round-up will include a number of phrasal verbs.

The verb pick is often used as a synonym for ‘choose’. Pick a card. / He was picked for the junior squad. The phrasal verb pick out emphasizes that you choose one thing from a group: I offered Anna various sweaters and she picked out a green one.

The phrase pick and choose means ‘to choose only what you want’. It’s often used negatively when criticizing someone for choosing in a situation where this is not appropriate: You can’t pick and choose which rule you follow. That’s not how it works.

The noun ‘pick’ is used in some nice phrases. You might ask someone to choose something from a number of things by saying, informally, take your pick: We’ve got loads of scarves – take your pick! The first person to choose something from several may be said to have or get first pick: It’s Charlie’s birthday so he gets first pick of the cookies. Meanwhile, if you have your pick of people or things, all the options are available to you: We were first to arrive at the restaurant, so we had our pick of the tables.

Still with the word ‘pick’, we use the adjective handpicked to describe people who have been carefully chosen for a particular activity: The president was speaking to a handpicked audience of supporters.

Finally for ‘pick’, the verb cherry-pick means ‘to choose people or things to suit yourself, in a way that is not fair or not right’: Schools have been accused of cherry-picking academically more able students. / He accused campaigners of cherry-picking data.

Moving on, the verb select means ‘choose’ and suggests that someone thinks carefully about their choice: He was selected to play for Australia aged just 18. The adjective selective means ‘choosing only what you want’: Once your reputation as an actor is established, you can afford to be a bit more selective about parts you accept.

As you might expect, there are various phrasal verbs that mean ‘choose’. In UK English, you can say you go for something: I usually go for the plant-based option if there is one. If you decide on or settle on something, you choose it after careful thought: Have they decided on a name for the baby yet? / We eventually settled on a date for the party.

The verb opt also means ‘make a choice’. You can opt for something or opt to do something: She might opt for early retirement. / I opted to do the shorter course.

I hope you’ve found this round-up of ‘choose’ words and phrases helpful!

20 thoughts on “Take your pick! (Words and phrases for choosing things)

  1. Ammar Briki

    It’s passionate language learning There are many nuances to consider for using the right synonym: Cherry-pcking action implies an unfair or unlawful choice while selecting is more legal.(Football team selection .?)I see in to ‘ go for something’ a difference with ‘to settle on’ or decide on’ .
    In the first phrasal verb , we choose without thinking carefully as we do for the second one..We find the same different nuance in French (you try your luck.when you say to go for.) meaning also to accept and walking this way in my popular arabic language ..Thank you for sharing this treasure with us..

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Henry! You certainly could, though ‘fancy’ means ‘want/would like’ rather than choose. Best wishes from Cambridge.

  2. Roberta

    You are doing a great job and giving precious info about the English language which help us to improve our knowledge. Thank you ever so much.

  3. Nimal Nonis

    The care you have taken in choosing the most suitable and understandable examples is highly commendable. I am a regular reader of your and others’ articles in this section of the Cambridge dictionary. All of you are exceptionally knowledgeable. Keep up your good work and it is helping learners like us immensely. Thank you.

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