Makeup, Make-up, or Make Up?

by Craig Shrives

"Makeup," "Make-up," or "Make Up"?

Should I write "makeup," "make-up," or "make up"?
  • For the noun and adjective, use "makeup."
    • I have bought some new makeup. correct tick
    • (Here, "makeup" is a noun.)
    • I have bought a new makeup box. correct tick
    • (Here, "makeup" is an adjective.)
  • For the verb, use "make up."
    • I will make up the dancers first. correct tick
makeup, make-up, or make up?

Do I Write Make-up, Makeup, or Make Up?

The word "makeup" is a compound noun, which means it is a noun comprising at least two words. In the case of "makeup," it is a compound noun made up of a verb ("make") and a preposition ("up"). Compound nouns can be closed (without a space), open (two words), or hyphenated. "Makeup" is a closed compound noun. Read more about compound nouns.

Write Makeup (for the Noun)

There are no definitive rules about when to use a hyphen (make-up), nothing (makeup), or a space (make up) with compound nouns. The best thing to do is use your spellchecker to determine whether the one-word version is a spelling mistake. If it isn't a spelling mistake (NB: "makeup" isn't), then you should use the one-word version as it is the most efficient and is highly likely to be the most current version of the noun. In summary, you should opt for "makeup" over "make-up" and "make up." Therefore:
  • makeup correct tick
  • make-up wrong cross
  • make up wrong cross
  • (It is a little harsh to mark "make-up" and "make up" as wrong, but they are not the preferred style.)

Write Makeup (for the Adjective)

As "makeup" is the most efficient and current version of the noun, it follows that it should be used as the adjective too. Therefore:
  • makeup artist correct tick
  • make-up artist wrong cross
  • (It is a little harsh to mark "make-up" as wrong, but it is not the preferred style.)
  • make up artist wrong cross
  • ("Make up" is a poor choice for the adjective because it should have a hyphen to mark it as a compound adjective, i.e., a single adjective comprising more than one word.)
When "makeup" is used as an adjective, it is, in fact, not a normal adjective but an attributive noun. This is why there is no distinction between "makeup" the noun and "makeup" the adjective. They are both "makeup" the noun. (You can read more about attributive nouns on the adjectives page.)

Write Make Up (for the Verb)

As a verb, "make up" is a phrasal verb, i.e., a verb made up of a verb and another word (either a preposition or a particle). In the case of "make up," "make" is the verb and "up" is a preposition. Phrasal verbs are never merged into one word or joined with hyphens. Therefore:
  • Anne, please make up the witch for the next scene. correct tick
  • I will make-up your daughter to look like a princess. wrong cross
  • Can you makeup the lion? wrong cross
  • Can you make the lion up? correct tick
  • (Note: "Make up" is a separable phrasal verb.)
Read more about phrasal verbs.

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are adjectives? List of easily confused words

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