Out, error, out! Cleanup vs. clean up vs. clean-up

One of the dirty little secrets that writers keep is not knowing the difference between cleanup and clean up. To mess things up even more, some don’t understand if they can use clean-up. Time to clear the air!

Cleanup (one word) is a noun or an adjective. To wit: The cleanup after the rowdy festival took days to complete.

Clean up (two words) is a verb. Also to wit: You’ll need a broom, dust pan, and mop to clean up the kitchen floor.

And let’s just dump clean-up (with a hyphen) into the trash bin right now. There is no such word. Unless you’re British. Then it’s used as an adjective, as in: The clean-up operation began Monday. This rule doesn’t apply to Americans and Canadians, and Aussies and New Zealanders are divided on it.