When should you use “makeup,” “make-up,” or “make up”? Many words like these give writers headaches, and editors find and correct these errors all the time. Here’s a simple explanation of this word set, so you can be sure to use the right one in your writing.
Makeup is a noun referring to cosmetics—substances applied to one’s face, usually for the purpose of enhancing one’s looks. It’s one word, without a hyphen. A way to remember it: a woman wants the makeup on her face to be smooth, without empty spaces or hyphens.
Make-up functions as an adjective, a word or phrase that modifies a noun, such as a make-up test. Modifying phrases made up of two or more words, where the words together modify the noun, are hyphenated. The way to tell when to use a hyphen is to see if either word alone works to modify the noun. A student doesn’t take a make test if he misses school. He doesn’t take an up test either. He takes a make-up test. Both the word “make” and the word “up” are needed here, so they are hyphenated. If the words together modify the noun, it needs a hyphen. There are some exceptions, such as adverbs that end in -ly, but that doesn’t apply here.
Make up (two words) is a verb, a word or phrase that depicts action. “Make up” is to reconcile. A hint for remembering this one is “It takes two to make up” so it’s two separate words. One might make up with a friend after an argument. A mnemonic for remembering all three? She will make up her face with makeup before the make-up test.