When to use the former and when to use the latter?

Example sentence:

She wanted a little sister to style her hair and dress her (up) in clothes.

A native English speaker told me I should use "up" but Google told me there are more results without the "up".

2 Answers 2


To dress [someone] means to put clothes on them, usually for a purely functional reason. You might dress a child for school, for example.

To dress [someone] up means to put fancy clothes on them, usually to make them look attractive. You might dress a child up for a family photograph or a special occasion.

In your example, if the girl being talked about wanted a little sister for the fun of styling her hair, it also makes sense that she wants to dress up that little sister as well. That is, to have the fun of making her look pretty. It is unlikely that she wants a little sister because she dreams of having the daily chore of merely dressing her in functional clothes each morning.


Like many verbs followed by up, the meaning of dress is slightly different from dress up.

To dress someone is to put clothes on them. Presumably, the author can dress herself here, but in other contexts, it might refer to selecting or purchasing clothes for someone or helping them put them on.

She hadn't expected much from the Army except to get her out of the town and to dress her in green.

Her mother, obsessed with fashion, always dressed her in the latest styles.

To dress up and to dress something/someone up refer to specific activities as opposed to the everyday wearing of clothes. As OALD defines it:

dress up to wear clothes that are more formal than those you usually wear

There's no need to dress up—come as you are.

dress up | dress somebody up to put on special clothes, especially to pretend to be somebody/something different

dress something up to present something in a way that makes it seem better or different

To have a little sister to dress her up suggests either playing dress-up as children (wearing adult clothes or costumes for playing make-believe) or to make her up with fancy or formal clothes for special occasions.

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