‘Makeup' or 'Make Up': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 18, 2023

'Makeup' or 'make up:' you might have seen these two words spelled differently and wondered whether there's a difference. If so, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll reveal the meaning of each word and how to use it.

Short version:

  • 'Makeup is a noun. It means either cosmetics, someone's personal constitution, etc.
  • 'Make up' is a verb that means to invent something in your imagination, or do put something together, etc. There are more definitions below.

What's the Difference Between 'Makeup' and 'Make Up'?

As I mentioned in the intro, 'makeup' and 'make up' are different parts of speech. One is a noun, while the other is a phrasal verb.

Let's take a deeper look at what each word means and when to use them.

What Does 'Makeup' Mean?

'Makeup' is a noun that has two different meanings.

It can refer to cosmetics people use to beautify their faces, such as lipstick or mascara.

For example:

I don't feel like wearing makeup today.

It can also refer to someone or something's constitution.

For example:

He can't help but behave selfishly; it's just part of his makeup.

Like most nouns, 'makeup' can also function as an attributive noun, which is similar to an adjective. It means you can use the word to modify another noun. In that way, it takes on a third meaning: something you do as a replacement for something you didn't do before or failed.

For example:

I failed my English test, but I have a makeup exam on Friday.

You could also use 'makeup' in the cosmetics sense as an attributive noun.

Like this:

Have you seen my makeup box?

What Does 'Make Up' Mean?

As mentioned previously, 'make up' is a phrasal verb. A phrasal verb is a verb made up of two words - normally a verb and then another word (usually a preposition or particle).

Knowing this helps you know which is which when you see it in a sentence. If you know that phrasal verbs are made up of two words, if you see the spelling with two words, you'll know it's the verb.

But what does it mean? There are several definitions:

  • To create or invent something with your imagination (usually a lie)
    Example: Why do you always make up excuses?
  • To form a part of something
    Example: These are the employees that make up the team.
  • To make up for something you missed
    Example: You'll need to make up the hours you missed while you were away.
  • To reconcile after an argument
    Example: It's time for your kids to make up.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Makeup' or 'Make Up'

Now we're clear on the meaning of each word, would you like to know how to pronounce them?

The good news is that they sound exactly the same, so you'll only have to practice the pronunciation once. They sound like this:

[ meyk-uhp ]

Or, if you want to know the International Phonetics Alphabet spelling (for grammar geeks like me!), it goes like this:

/ ˈmeɪkˌʌp /

When to Use 'Makeup' or 'Make Up'

Let's take a look at some examples of these two words used in a sentence, so you can better understand how to use them in context. We'll start with the noun' makeup.'

Examples of 'Makeup'

I study the genetic makeup of natural organisms.

I always wear makeup at the office.

The cleansing process interferes with the water's chemical makeup.

This country's too hot to wear makeup!

The makeup quiz is much easier.

Examples of 'Make Up'

Now let's look at some example sentences using 'make up.' Since it's a verb, I'll use different conjugations so you can see how it applies in context.

We would have made up a long time ago if he'd only apologize.

Are you making this up as you go along?

I'm sorry I canceled our date; I'd like to make it up to you.

Their new fashion line will be made up of lots of bright colors.

I don't know how to get out of this commitment; I might have to make up some mysterious illness.

Concluding Thoughts

So there you have it: the difference between 'makeup' and 'make up.' I hope this article has helped you feel more confident about using each word. Here's what we've learned, in summary:

  • 'Makeup' is a noun and must be spelled with one word
  • 'Make up' is a phrasal verb and must be spelled with two separate words

If you'd like to learn about more confusing words, we've covered lots of those over on our blog. Check it out!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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