Confused about how to use the words ‘make’ and ‘do’ in English? No problem! In this study guide, we will show you 140+ expressions and examples to demonstrate the practical differences between make vs. do. Ready? Let’s jump in!
Make or do? – that is the question! These two short words are famous for confusing learners of English. Most errors appear where there are differences in how and when ‘make’ and ‘do’ are used in English vs. your native language. Let’s look at some basic theory to understand the general meaning of ‘make’ vs. ‘do’ in English.
I make – He/She makes – We/They make
I will make – I am making – I made – I have made
The verb make is used when talking about creation or production in a process. In other words, it is used to refer to the result of an action. For example: ‘Make a cup of tea’, ‘Make plans for the future’ or ‘Make a model boat out of wood’.
Made can be used to indicate the material of a product. For example, we can say that a spoon is ‘made of steel’. In this case, we would say made, as in the past tense of make. The creation has already taken place and now the spoon is made of steel.
I do – She/He does – They/We do
I will do – I am doing – I did – I have done
The verb ‘do’ is used when we talk about tasks, duties, obligations and routine work. It refers to the process of carrying out these actions. This verb is similar to the formal words perform or execute (as in: execute a command). For example: ‘I did my homework yesterday evening.’ (completed task).
Another use of the verb do is to replace a different verb in the context of a clear or straightforward result. For example: ‘Do the dishes’ (vs. wash the dishes). ‘Do my hair’ means cut, dye, style or perform another similar action on my hair. The word ‘do’ can also be used for recreational and individual sports, such as martial arts. For example: ‘Do karate twice a week’ (take part in this sporting activity, perhaps by attending a class).
Remember that ‘do’ can be used as an auxiliary verb in questions and for added emphasis. In these contexts, it is not used to mean ‘performing an action’.
Do in questions: In ‘Do you like music?’ the word ‘do’ is just used to indicate a question. ‘You like music.’ would be a fact. Learners often make the mistake of leaving out the ‘do’ in English questions because in their own language rising intonation is enough. Only in informal English is this possible where the context is 100% clear. For example, just: ‘Coffee?’ (when you are about to pour a cup and you are asking for your friend’s permission).
Do for emphasis: In ‘Lucy thinks I don’t love her, but I do. I really do!’ the use of ‘do’ shows the contradiction between what Lucy thinks and what the speaker feels.
In summary, ‘do’ usually refers to the process and ‘make’ refers to the result or creative aspect of the process. For example, you would do some cooking (process), but you would make dinner (result).
Collocations with MAKE
NOTE: It is a common mistake to say ‘make sex’. The correct form is ‘have sex’ or ‘make love’.
NOTE: In the context of relationships, a ‘commitment’ could be any of the following: agreeing to only date one person, moving in with your partner, making long-term plans together, considering marriage.
NOTE: We can also use ‘make’ to mean: get into or deserve a place in. For example, ‘John made the first team’ (won a place in the team through his performance) or ‘The car accident made the headlines’ (was included in the news). John did not create or form the team, nor did the car accident write the headlines.
Collocations with DO
NOTE: Football, rugby, cricket, basketball, tennis, etc. usually to take ‘play’ and not ‘do’.
Phrasal verbs with MAKE
a) Imagine, think up, invent, lie
‘If you don’t know the answer, then just make one up!’
‘I really believed my son’s story about the broken window, but he had just made it up.’
b) Make peace after an argument, reconcile
‘I had an argument with my wife, but we’ve made up now.’
‘Has Mike made up with Chloe? I know they had a fight last week.’
c) Decide, choose (make up one’s mind)
‘There’s so much choice that I can’t make up my mind which ice cream to get!’
‘Will you please make up your mind? We haven’t got all day!’
d) Constitute, consist of (scientific/formal)
‘A car engine is made up of many different components.’
‘This social committee is made up of 12 community representatives.’
e) Compensate for, add missing money/time
‘If you pay your share of the bill, then I will make up the difference.’
‘I was off work with a cold last week so now I’m making up the time by staying late.’
‘Sorry I didn’t get to your birthday! I promise I’ll make it up to you next time I’m in town.’
‘If I make a mistake a work, then I always try to make up for it after.’
f) Put on cosmetics
‘June liked to make herself up before going to the theatre.’
‘My girlfriend won’t leave the house without putting her makeup on!’ (Noun)
g) Prepare a room or bed for a guest
‘Robert’s coming to stay tomorrow so we need to make up the spare room.’
‘Have you made (up) the guest bed for Robert yet?’
a) Understand, comprehend (with difficulty)
‘She couldn’t make out what he was saying (due to the noise).’
‘Steve is such a weird guy! I just can’t make him out.’
‘Why are English trains always late? I just can’t make it out!
‘I could just about make out her writing, even though the letter was old and faded.’
b) Complete and sign over to
‘Richard made the cheque out to his son.’
‘The old man made out a will to his next of kin.’
c) Pretend, give a false impression
‘Some famous rappers make out they are real gangsters.’
‘The art thief made out that the fake copy was an original.’
d) Engage in sexual activity or intercourse (USA, informal)
‘The young couple were making out in the car when the police arrived.’
Think, understand, conclude
‘I’m not sure what to make of this!’ (I don’t know what to conclude, don’t understand it)
‘What do you make of this student’s poor attendance?’ (What is your opinion?)
Leave quietly, escape with a stolen item
‘We caught a brief glimpse of the tiger before it made off into the dark jungle.’
‘The burglar made off with a flat screen TV and some cash.’
Change into, turn into, transform
‘We plan to make our attic into an art studio.’
‘Worrying about your problems all the time will make you into a nervous wreck!’
a) Transfer ownership
‘I will make this house over to you before I die.’
b) Remodel, improve the appearance of something or someone
‘On the TV dating show, the 3 contestants were given a free makeover.’ (Noun)
‘Our house is in a bad condition, but we plan to make it over.’ (USA)
Go towards, try to escape
‘If you make for the valley, then you’ll be back at the campsite by nightfall.’
‘The frightened kitten made for the door, but it was closed.’
a) Improve condition of, renovate
‘We’ve bought a new house, but need to do it up before we can move in.
‘They really should do up the local school! It has been neglected for years.’
b) Fasten, close
‘It’s getting cold. Do up your coat!’
‘We’re not driving anywhere until you do your seatbelt up!’
Fix up, renovate, decorate
‘They’ve had their kitchen done out in green tiles and marble worktops.’
Take away unfairly, prevent someone receiving what is rightfully theirs
‘Maggie’s relatives have secretly done her out of a large inheritance.’
Relate to, be connected with
‘I think tectonic plates have something to do with earthquakes, don’t they?’
‘Can you please mind your own business? This has nothing to do with you!’
Continue or live without something or someone
‘I’ve had my dog Sammy for 10 years. Now I just can’t do without him!’
‘If you don’t want to eat what I’ve cooked, then you can just do without!’ (Not eat anything)
a) Repeat, do again
‘This assignment is no good at all! You’ll have to do it over.’ (USA)
b) Beat up
‘The thief claims that the police did him over in his cell.’
Belittle, criticise, put down
‘I don’t think my boss likes me. He’s always trying to do me down!’
Note: ‘Put down’ is more common in British English.
Get rid of, abolish, remove
‘They are doing away with diesel cars. In the future, no one will manufacture them.’
‘The UK government has voted to do away with fox hunting.’
In this guide, you have seen over 160 combinations (collocations and phrasal verbs) with the words ‘make’ and ‘do’. However, learning them all is easier said than done! Try the following tips and exercises to help you remember the most commonly used expressions.
Perfect-English-Grammar.com has four sets of multiple choice exercises dedicated to the differences between ‘make’ and ‘do’. Well worth a look!
BBC Learning English has some basic explanations, followed by a multiple choice list of short exercises to help you test your understanding of make vs. do.
Cambridge English has an interesting interactive set of exercises. These ask you to select ‘make’ or ‘do’ for each example. The correct answer is then displayed.
BusinessEnglishResources.com has a wide range of free materials on topics related to business English. These include one page of exercises on the difference between ‘make’ and ‘do’ in a work context.
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