When to use Make or Do

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Sometimes it's difficult to know when to use 'make' or 'do'. They are two of the most common verbs in English. They are also two of the most commonly confused verbs in English! There are two main reasons for this:

  • Many languages have only one of these verbs. For example, in Italian 'fare' translates for both 'do' and 'make'. In German, however, 'do' translates to 'tun' and make to 'machen'. However, the collocations are not always the same. 
  • Many of the expressions are fixed expressions such as: make the bed, do homework. These fixed expressions are known as strong collocations. Collocations are words that generally go together. 

This guide should help you learn the most common uses of both 'make' or 'do' in English.

Fixed Expressions with 'Do'

Here are the some of the most common fixed expressions with 'do':

  • do homework
  • do the dishes
  • do housework
  • do good
  • do harm
  • do your best
  • do a favor
  • do 50 mph
  • do business
  • do your duty
  • do your hair
  • do a deed
  • do penance / time
  • do right / wrong
  • do enough

Fixed Expressions with 'Make'

Here are the some of the most common fixed expressions with 'make':

  • make an offer
  • make an exception
  • make a mistake
  • make peace / war
  • make love
  • make a phone call
  • make an effort / attempt
  • make (a) noise
  • make a suggestion
  • make a decision
  • make an excuse
  • make progress
  • make arrangements

General Rules for 'Do'

Use 'do' when speaking about vague, or indefinite activities.

These include speaking in general using '-thing' words such as something, anything, nothing, etc.

Are you going to do anything about it?
Let's do something this afternoon.
I didn't do anything 

Use 'do' for activities. This includes any chores or daily tasks.

Hurry up and do the dishes
Did you do your chores?
I didn't have time to do my homework

Use 'do' with various jobs and activities ending in '-ing' such as do some gardening, do some thinking, do some painting, etc. This use tends to be informal in nature and can often be stated in a different manner. For example, 'I did some studying this afternoon' can be stated 'I studied this afternoon'.

I did some thinking about your problem.
He did some reading this morning.
She's going to do some resting on vacation.

General Rules for 'Make'

Generally, use 'make' when actually constructing or creating something (in other words, NOT for activities).

I made a cup of tea for breakfast.
He made his daughter a rocking horse.
Did you make that wonderful bread?

Do and Make for Business

Both 'do' and 'make' are commonly used in business English. Here are commonly used expressions.

Do

  • do the accounts
  • business
  • do a deal
  • do your job
  • do research
  • do some work

Make

  • make an appointment
  • make changes
  • make a contribution
  • make a decision
  • make a deal
  • make an effort
  • make an impact
  • make money
  • make an offer
  • make a profit
  • make a trip
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "When to use Make or Do." ThoughtCo, Jun. 22, 2017, thoughtco.com/when-to-use-make-or-do-1212314. Beare, Kenneth. (2017, June 22). When to use Make or Do. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/when-to-use-make-or-do-1212314 Beare, Kenneth. "When to use Make or Do." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/when-to-use-make-or-do-1212314 (accessed December 14, 2017).