To Make and To Do

'To make' and 'To do' are two of the most common verbs in English. They're also two of the most confusing.

They are both used to talk about activities, building or creating things. But it's not 100% consistent.


Here are some tips to help you out!

Open Argot Top Tip!

These verbs are inconsistent and the rules given here can be broken.

If you remember one tip, remember this:

  • Make focuses on the outcome - something done, created, built, or said

  • Do focuses on the process, the action of doing, creating, building, saying

  • "DO is the ACTION of DOING, MAKE is the THING that is MADE"

To Make

The verb make usually focuses on an outcome or result of something:

“I made pancakes for breakfast!”  [the pancakes]

“Patrice made an effort to get to work on time.”  [the effort]

“Sally made a remark about the weather.”  [the remark]

"I think I've made a big mistake."  [the mistake]

Make is used for activities around food and drink:

"I'll make coffee."

"Juan decided it was his turn to make dinner."

Make is used for activities around talking and communications:

"Don't make a sound."

"The students were relaxing and making conversation."

"I need to make a phone call."

"Pedro was worried about making the speech to the conference."

We use make with people:

"I'm new here and I need to make friends."

"Let's make up." [be friends again after an argument]

"A married couple traditionally makes love on their first night together." [have sex]

"Don't make fun of me!" [to tease or be nasty towards]

"I need to make an appointment with the dentist."

To Do

If make focuses on the outcome or the product of an action, do focuses on the process or the action itself.

“I was doing the housework.”

“Susan does her homework.”

“Ahmed is doing his English examination.”

We do tasks, jobs and activities:

"If you do a job, try to do a good job."

"At the weekend I'm doing my yoga class."

"I'm going to be doing the garden, so text if you need me."

We do cleaning, tidying and making things look nice:

"Here's a cloth. I'll dust the kitchen if you do the lounge."

"Leave the sign on the door so the cleaner can do our room while we're out."

"I'm already an hour late, and I still have to do my hair and makeup!"

Do and Make are both general-purpose verbs.  If you use them wrongly, in most cases English speakers will understand what you mean.

However, there are times when we don't use them at all! Some activities are lucky enough to have a verb of their own!

When We Don't Do or Make

Some actions, activities or outcomes are specific enough that they don't use a general-purpose verb like 'make' or 'do' to describe them. Instead they have a verb which is almost always used with them.

For example:

You record a song or album.

You write a book.

You take a photo.

You light a fire.

You ask a question.

You build a house.

You won't be surprised to know that these need to be learned with each activity - there isn't a rule!

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