The verbs do and make are verbs we use very frequently in our everyday language, but for an English student it’s often hard to know which one to use in each case.
What’s the difference between the two verbs and what tricks can you learn to help you choose the right option?
In many languages, do and make are translated into the same verb because the meaning is very similar. But, unluckily for students, they are not interchangeable, so with some actions we need to use do and with other actions we need to use make. However, even though they are similar, there are some differences which you can learn to help you choose the right verb.
Let’s look at each verb and see when it’s used.
DO has the general meaning of performing an action. It often describes generic actions and tasks that are obligatory and repetitive. For example,
DO work and jobs
I do the housework at the weekend.
What do you do? (=What’s your job?)
Dad is doing the gardening.
We do the shopping at our local supermarket.
Children have to do a lot of homework these days.
Doing regular exercise keeps you fit.
You’re doing a great job!
DO something, anything, nothing
Are you doing anything special this weekend?
If you’re bored, do something.
What do you do in your free time?
DO well or badly
She did really well in her exams.
Just do your best.
They did the work very badly.
DO as a substitute verb
Sally is doing her nails. (arrange/polish them)
Granny is doing the ironing.
Who does the cooking in your family?
MAKE generally means to produce or create something, and expresses something you choose to do. For example,
Make meals and drinks
Shall we make some biscuits?
It’s late. I’d better make the dinner.
I’ll make us a cup of tea.
MAKE plans and decisions
Has he made a decision yet?
We haven’t made any plans for the wedding yet.
You need to make a choice.
MAKE to describe material
This dress was made in Italy.
My ring is made of pink gold.
This TV series was made by the BBC.
MAKE to mean ‘cause’
Onions make you cry.
Good news makes you smile.
Eating a lot makes you put on weight.
MAKE a sound
Sit quietly and try not to make a noise.
I’d like to make a suggestion.
He has to make a speech at the press conference.
The company is making a profit this year.
We work hard but don’t make much money.
He made $500 by selling an old bike.
They’re going to make a payment this afternoon.
Collocations with Do and Make
We’ve looked at the general uses and meanings of do and make. There are some other situations which don’t fall into these categories above but in which you can only use one of the two verbs. These combinations are called collocations – words that typically go together, and you simply need to learn and remember these. Here are the most common ones.
Do someone a favor
Do a crossword/puzzle
Do 50 kph
Do a course
Do your duty
Make a phone call
Make a complaint
Make an excuse
Make a mistake
Make an offer
Make the bed
Make a promise
Make a prediction
Here are some examples:
Ian, can you do me a favor please?
The recession did a lot of damage to small businesses.
I want to do a course on body language to improve my presentation skills.
We’d like to make a complaint. We’ve been waiting for an hour and our food still hasn’t arrived.
Oops, I’ve made a mistake. I’d better start again.
Make sure you close the package carefully before you send it.
The children always make their own beds in the morning.
The supplier made me a promise. He said the goods would arrive today.
As you can see, collocations with make are more common than collocations with do.
Choosing between do and make can be tricky, but now that you know these basic principles you can try to follow them from now on. If you can, write a few of your own examples for the collocations you find most difficult. And over the next few weeks, every time you study and speak English, pay particular attention to do and make.
Start practicing now!