Select vs. choose

You know how some people think “I” or “myself” is the polite form of “me?”

They say things like “John and myself went to the store.” Or “The clerks at the store were rude to John and I.”

Oh, it burns. It stings. It makes me crazy on the inside, in the inner part of my brain, where the fires and voices fight for attention.

There’s a similar thing in user interface text. People think “select” is the polite form of “choose.”

It’s not. They have different meanings. In general, you select a noun (subject) and choose a verb — but you also choose when there’s a list of options (direct and indirect objects, often).

You can select some text, one or more items in a table, one or more icons in the Finder, part of a photo (or one or more photos) in iPhoto.

You choose a menu command or a toolbar command, an item in a popup menu, an item in a segmented control.

One way to think about it: if you could apply a menu command to the item, then it’s a selection. Otherwise it’s (usually) a choice.

Another way to think about it: selections are often free-form — some part of a photo, one or more not-necessarily-contiguous items in a table, a range (possibly even vertical) of text. Choices tend to be between discrete items: a list of languages, a list of web browsers.

Select your words wisely.

03 Dec 2010