I wonder what is the difference between the two verbs "make up" and "compensate"? In order to discover it and make you able to explain it in a simpler way, I have made four examples. Please do me a favor and let me know which option works better in each sentence and which choice doesn't work at all plus the reason behind it.

The first scenario:

Teacher: you have missed 5 sessions so far. Do you know?
Student: yes, Mr. Johnson. I know!
Teacher: How are you going to ................ for the classes you have missed?

a. make up
b. compensate

The second scenario:

The insurance company will ............... people for the damage caused by the flood.

a. make up
b. compensate

The third scenario:

He is suffering from depression and is under treatment now. Unfortunately, he had a very unpleasant childhood and many dark past. I think nothing can............... for his lost childhood.

a. make up
b. compensate

The fourth scenario:

I'm late and I have to drive fast to ................

a. make up
b. compensate

I have read the similar thread on the forum.


1 Answer 1


The only one where the two phrases are not interchangeable is scenario two.

This is because 'to make up for' is the complete idiom. You need to include 'for' immediately after 'make up' in order for it to make sense.

So you can't say:

The insurance company will make up for people for the damage caused by the flood.

Whereas, if you said

The insurance company will make up for people who incurred damage from the flood.

it would be grammatical, but means something completely different from your intention. In this case the insurance company is 'making up for' the actions of the people, not the flood. In other words 'to make up for' is always followed by the thing that is being 'made up for' - the thing that caused the problem. Whereas compensate, acting as a transitive verb, can be followed by the object that is being compensated. The presence or absence of 'for' changes 'to compensate' between transitive and intransitive.

"But!", I hear you say, "The fourth example breaks that rule! I could end the sentence with 'make up'".

Well - sort of. In fact there is an implied 'for' in the final sentence

I'm late and I need to drive fast to make up [for my lateness].

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