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Distinguishing between the verbs  make and do in English

The words do and make in English

Make and Do are among the commonest verbs in the English language.
Native English speakers do not mix them up; but they can cause difficulty for speakers of other languages, as many other languages have a single verb that corresponds to both do and make in English.
Spanish hacer,  French faire, German machen,  Italian fare,  Russian делать,  Portuguese fazer.... they can all mean either do or make in English.

Meanings and use of do and make

The fundamental difference between do and make  is that:
expressions with do generally focus on a process
expressions with make focus on the result of a process
  • Do is generally used in expressions that express actions:
    Examplesdo the shopping ,  do your best,  do a competition,  do something very stupid
      In the expression "do the shopping", the focus is on the action, i.e. buying things in shops
  • Make is generally used in expressions which focus on the result, something that is created, acquired or expressed.
    Examplesmake a shopping-list,  make a mistake,  make lunch,  make a lot of noise,  make money
    In the expression "make a shopping list", we are not really interested in the process, but in the result, i.e. the list that exists once it has been written down.
  • Make can also imply cause :  
    Example make something happen,
Take care !  It is not always easy to say if the meaning of a verb is focused on the action or the result of the action.


The most significant uses of do in English are
  • as an auxiliary used in negative forms of the simple present tense, as in I don't speak Latin (see present tenses)
  • as a pro-verb, used to avoid repeating another (lexical) verb, as in :  
    You know more than I do.
    I got better marks in the exam than my brother did.  
  • as a pro-verb used in questions to anticipate the verb that will be used in the answer, as in  :
    What are you doing ?  /  I'm writing a letter.   In this example do anticipates the verb write
  • as a verb denoting action in a limited number of common expressions.
Common English expressions using do
To do a job / the housework / your homework / the washing up / the shopping   etc.
To do something wrong / right.
To do something very quickly / slowly /  clever / stupid / etc.
To do your best / To do well
To do business with someone
There are also some idiomatic uses of do, including a couple of prepositional uses of the verb to do, notably :
That will do  meaning That is enough
To do without,  as in There was no bread left, so we had to do without it at dinner.
To do up,  as in The house looked very old, but they did it up and now it looks like new.


The verb make usually implies cause or creation. It is used four main ways.
  • as a causative verb  as in
    I made him tell me all about his holidays .
    The things he said made me very angry.
  • as a  standard verb (a lexical verb)  meaning to create or produce as in :
     Did you make that cake yourself ?
    I've made lunch for everyone.
    They make Ford cars in Detroit.
    He doesn't make much money working as a barman.
  • In a number of prepositional verbs or phrasal verbs (see prepositional verbs), notably :  
    To make do with ( = to be satisfied by or to manage with)
       Example: There was no beer, so they had to make do with water.
    To make out ( = to claim, to pretend, or to distinguish) 
    To make up ( = to invent, or to become friends again) 
    To make up for ( = to compensate for)
    To make it  (= to succeed)
        Examples :  I made it !!!   or Manchester United made it into the semi-finals.
  • as a verb stressing result or consequence or the object (the thing that is made)  in a number of common expressions. For example, in the expression to make a statement, it is the statement we are interested in, not usually the process of making it.
Common English expressions using make
To make breakfast / a cup of tea / a cup of coffee / a sandwich ... etc.
To make a complaint
To make a discovery
To make an effort
To make an enemy
To make an exception
To make an excuse
To make a fortune (= to make lots of money)
To make friends with
To make a move
To make an offer
To make peace
To make a phone call
To make a point
To make progress
To make a resolution
To make a statement
To make a success of something
To make a suggestion
To make up one's mind

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