The words “do” and “make” cause lots of confusion. Both describe an activity, but they are used differently. There are some basic guidelines for use but there are also plenty of exceptions and many idioms for both. Generally speaking, “do” relates to general activities and physical tasks that are vague, while “make” is used to show a specific result or object created by an activity. Additionally, there are many expressions with “do” and “make” that are idiomatic and need to be learned individually. Here are some general rules for these two words:
Use “do” to express general daily activities that do not produce anything:
- I try to do some chores every day.
- I usually do my housework after dinner.
- My daughter does jobs around the house for money.
- Have you done your homework?
Use “do” with the words “something,” “nothing,” ‘anything,” or “everything.”
- Are you doing anything for your birthday? (celebrating, having a party, etc.)
- He did nothing to help her when she moved to a new house.
- She is sick of doing everything for everyone else.
- Shall we do something on Sunday (go for a walk, see a movie, etc.)
Use “do” when the meaning of what you are saying is obvious:
- I am going to do the dishes (wash them)
- She is doing her hair (making it look nice)
- I wish he would do something instead of just sitting there.
Use “make” to express an activity that creates, constructs, and builds something at the end of it:
- I made dinner for everyone last night.
- He made a model train out for his birthday.
- Look at the mess you made!
- Tomorrow we are making a cake.
Use “make” for something that causes an action or reaction:
- My brother made me cry yesterday.
- Bright sunlight makes my eyes water.
- Drinking a lot of wine makes you sleepy.
Use “make” when talking about the materials objects are made of:
- The house is made of bricks.
- Her ring is made of gold.
- The car was made in Spain.
Use “make” for plans and decisions:
- They made arrangements to see the doctor.
- We are making plans for the summer.
- They have to make a decision immediately.
Common idioms and expressions for you to note:
As mentioned above, there are many idioms that you have to learn as there are no rules for them. Here are just a few of the most common expressions:
- What do you do? = what is your job?
- To do well – he did very well at school.
- To do badly – he did very badly in his exams.
- To do someone a favor – can you do me a favor?
- To do your best– he did his best. That was all he could do.
- To make a mistake – he made a huge mistake at work.
- To make money – he has made a lot of money on the stock market.
- To make a noise/sound – children make a lot of noise/don’t make a sound.
- To make a payment – I make a mortgage payment every month.
- To make (also give) a speech – I am making (giving) a speech at the dinner tomorrow.
- To make a profit – he sold his house and made a huge profit.
- To make a suggestion – can I make a suggestion?
- To make friends – did you make any new friends at your new school?
We hope this helps to clarify some of the confusion around these two words. Remember, the more you read, the more you will become familiar with when and where to use “do” and “make.” We cannot stress how helpful reading is in improving your language skills.
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