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When should I use do, and when should I use make?

I made supper.

I'm doing my homework now.

He made it easier.

Is it true that make implies creation?

  • 2
    And also make && make install ;-) – hjpotter92 Sep 17 '13 at 7:24
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    This is an important question, because in many languages, do and make are expressed with the same verb. – snailcar Sep 17 '13 at 8:54
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    It seems Indian subcontinent languages have the distinction clearer than European languages between do and make. However, in case of cooking do can replace make. – Mistu4u Sep 22 '13 at 16:15
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+300

You correctly suspect that “make” is associated with creation. Conversely, “do” will be associated with completion, especially completion of actions and work. For a more in-depth look at the differences, let's start with a readily available resource.


From the Woodward English site, the top-ranked result in a search for “do vs make”:

When do you use DO?

DO is used as follows:

1. DO is used when talking about work, jobs or tasks. Note, they do not produce any physical object.

  • Have you done your homework?
  • I have guests visiting tonight so I should start doing the housework now.
  • I wouldn't like to do that job.

2. DO is used when we refer to activities in general without being specific. In these cases, we normally use words like thing, something, nothing, anything, everything etc.

  • Hurry up! I've got things to do!
  • Don't just stand there – do something!
  • Is there anything I can do to help you?

3. We sometimes use DO to replace a verb when the meaning is clear or obvious. This is more common in informal spoken English:

  • Do I need to do my hair? (do = brush or comb)
  • Have you done the dishes yet? (done = washed)
  • I'll do the kitchen if you do the lawns (do = clean, do = mow)

When do you use MAKE?

[1.] Make is for producing, constructing, creating or building something new.

[2.] It is also used to indicate the origin of a product or the materials that are used to make something.

  • His wedding ring is made of gold.
  • The house was made of adobe.
  • Wine is made from grapes.
  • The watches were made in Switzerland

[3.] We also use Make for producing an action or reaction:

  • Onions make your eyes water.
  • You make me happy.
  • It’s not my fault. My brother made me do it!

[4. We use make with] certain nouns about plans and decisions:

  • make arrangements
  • make a choice

[5.] We use Make with nouns about speaking and certain sounds:

  • make a comment
  • make a noise
  • make a speech

[6.] We use Make with Food, Drink and Meals:

  • make a cake
  • make a cup of tea
  • make dinner


Now that we're on the same page, let's apply this knowledge to your examples:

I made supper.

This fits “make” sense 6 above, which is really just a special case of sense 1. The thing being constructed (so to speak, out of various ingredients) is a meal.

I'm doing my homework now.

This is essentially the first example in sense 1 of “do” above. Homework generally consists of one or more tasks, and is done like a job.

He made it easier.

This one's a little trickier, but it falls under sense 3 of “make” above, which is all about effecting a change in something (or someone) else. In cases like these, the phrase can easily be rewritten without “make” by using some form of “cause (it) to (be)”. For this particular example, you are essentially saying
“He [caused] it [to be] easier”, but that isn't how anyone is likely to say it in everyday parlance.


Note: I've extracted the key distinctions in my block quotes, but be sure to click the link above if you are at all interested in more examples, a helpful chart, and/or a practice test.

Also, please comment if there is some particular aspect of this distinction that is still bothering you.

5

Firstly, the most important aspect of the word "do" is that it performs an important grammatic function in the English language.

  • Do you know that man?

  • How do you do that?

  • You do know that it is dangerous, right?

These are special uses in which "do" basically does not contribute any meaning, but only serves a grammatical role.

For instance, when questions are formed in the English language, a process known as "subject-aux inversion" occurs. That is to say, the syntax of a declarative sentence is usually along a pattern such as "subject aux verb object". When we ask a question, the subject and auxiliary verb reverse position: "aux subject verb object?".

Here is an example. Starting with the declarative sentence "You have been to Hawaii", we identify the subject "you", auxiliary "have", and the verb "been". In forming the question, the subject and aux switch places: "Have you been to Hawaii?"

Now here is another example of a declarative: "You know the time". Here the subject is "you", the verb is "know" and the object is "time". But wait, where is the auxiliary? There isn't one: the auxiliary is null: "You /null/ know the time". When "You /null/ know the time" becomes a question, subject-aux inversion takes place like this: "/null/ you know the time?". We cannot have a null element at the beginning of a sentence, so a (theoretical) process known as "do affixing" takes place: the null auxiliary spot is replaced by the filler word "do": "Do you know the time?". The invisible auxiliary becomes visible as do!

In the sentence "You do know it is dangerous, right?", do is used for emphasis. It basically also looks like a case of the empty auxiliary position becoming visible: "You know it is dangerous" becomes "You do know it is dangerous?" If a sentence has no auxiliary verb, you can put the word "do" where the auxiliary would go, without changing the basic meaning, but changing the sense: adding emphasis in statements, or seeking confirmation in questions.

Interestingly, if "do" is used emphasizing that a confirmation is needed in response to a question, then the subject-aux inversion is prevented from taking place. A regular question might be, "Do you understand it?" But a confirmation-seeking question is "You do understand it? Right?" The empty auxiliary changes to "do" for emphasis, but stays where it is, because if it moved to the front, then the result would be an ordinary question.

So, the point is: There is a special use of do as an auxiliary verb, a role which the verb "make" does not have. "Make" is never an auxiliary verb.

Secondly, "do" functions as a kind of "verbal pronoun", similarly to the word "it". Just like we can use the word "it" to refer to some previously discussed noun phrase, we can use the word "do" to refer to a previous verb phrase, particularly in conjunction with "do it" or "do that".

  • Can you water my plants while I'm away?

  • Yes, I can do that.

Here, "do that" stands in place of "water your plants". The word "make" cannot be used in this way; it is another special role of "do".

"Do" is also an verb, independently of its special grammatic roles. It means to carry out some action: any kind of action. It is also an euphimism for sexual intercourse. ("I heard John and Mary are doing it!")

"Make" means to construct or produce something ("make a chair out of wood"); to create or cause a situation to be ("make trouble") ("make a sound"); to succeed or attain something ("we had hard times, but we made it through") ("I made it for the last train out of the city"), to earn money ("how much do you make per year?"); to show up to a prearranged meeting ("I'm glad you were able to make it"), to force someone or something ("please don't make me do that") ("It was the wrong part for the car, but I modified it to make it fit"); to configure a situation or put something into effect ("The new law makes it a violation to smoke in restaurants"); a euphimism for avoiding death ("The passenger walked away from the crash with minor injuries, but the driver didn't make it"); to pass some selection process ("Derek made the football team this year.") ("You've really made the grade"). In none of theses uses can "make" be replaced by "do". A mix-up here can be disastrous: consider "Derek did the football team", whose only interpretation is the sexual one.

Then there are various uses of both "make" and "do" with prepositions or other words which have specific meanings. The words "do" and "make" are not interchangeable, and have completely different meanings when used in cominations with the same words.

  • make up (invent a story or lie): "That story about how you fell out of an airplane and surived, you clearly made that up!"

  • do up (fasten): "Your bootlace is loose; do it up!" (Completely different from "make up").

  • make out (distinguish an unclear image or sound): "There is too much noise, so I cannot make out what he is saying".

  • make of (to form conclusions or opinions about something based on observation): "What do you make of the company's new strategy?

  • make believe (pretend): "The children climbed into the carboard box, and made believe they were in a ship." (Do believe is simply emphasis of "believe": "I do believe you're right").

Make and do can be combined to form "make do", which means to function in some inconvenient way due to not having all of the desired or ideal resources available. "When Jack retired, he had to figure out how to make do on a tiny pension. Eventually he found work to boost his income."

2
  1. to bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc.: to make a dress; to make a channel; to make a work of art.
  2. to produce; cause to exist or happen; bring about: to make trouble; to make war.
  3. to cause to be or become; render: to make someone happy.
  4. to appoint or name: The President made her his special envoy.
  5. to put in the proper condition or state, as for use; fix; prepare: to make a bed; to make dinner.

Yes, that is more or less the meaning of the word and how it is normally used.

  • 1
    Sorry, but what reference did you use? If you don't mind my asking. I ask because "do" can also mean produce which is another way of saying to create. For example we can say: Yesterday, I did a painting. – Mari-Lou A Sep 17 '13 at 7:45
  • I think "I did a painting" is very awkward. Better "I painted a painting", even if it's somewhat repetitive. – Peter Flom - Reinstate Monica Sep 17 '13 at 10:13
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    @PeterFlom: I agree that it sounds awkward on its own, but isn't it acceptable in phrases like “Van Gogh did a painting of sunflowers”? – Tyler James Young Sep 19 '13 at 17:16
  • I would say "acceptable" is about right. Not ideal, but not absolutely wrong. – Peter Flom - Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '13 at 17:39
  • I did say in my example "we can say", and between "Yesterday, I painted a painting " and "I did a painting" the latter is more common. However, to express this concept more clearly, a preferable way would be to say: "Yesterday, I painted a (landscape/portrait/still life etc.)". – Mari-Lou A Sep 20 '13 at 4:36
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The content in this answer was taken from Woodward English and Espresso English.

Something that we are frequently asked is when do you use the verb DO and when do you use the verb MAKE.

Basic Difference between DO and MAKE

Use DO for actions, obligations, and repetitive tasks. Use MAKE for creating or producing something, and for actions you choose to do. DO generally refers to the action itself, and MAKE usually refers to the result. For example, if you “make breakfast,” the result is an omelet! If you “make a suggestion,” you have created a recommendation.

This is understandable because in some languages they use one verb for both Do and Make (like Hacer in Spanish).

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If you check out Do vs Make in English, you will find a more detailed description of the difference between Do and Make as well as many set expressions that only begin with DO and others that only begin with MAKE (which you have to learn by heart).

Common English Collocations with DO
HOUSEWORK
do the housework
After I got home from the office, I was too tired to do the housework.
do the laundry
I really need to do the laundry – I don’t have any clean clothes left!

WORK / STUDY

do business
We do business with clients in fifteen countries.
do a good/great/terrible job
She did a good job organizing the party. (in this expression, “job” doesn’t necessarily refer to work. It simply means the person did something well)

Common English Collocations with MAKE
FOOD

make breakfast/lunch/dinner
I’m making dinner – it’ll be ready in about ten minutes.
make a sandwich
Could you make me a turkey sandwich?

For more details check out HERE

  • 3
    To quote Gilles' comment here: “Plagiarism is not cool.” This entire answer has been copied and pasted from here and here. It's fine to quote stuff, but please block it out, cite it, and add to it. – Tyler James Young Sep 20 '13 at 20:25
  • Plus, those are just not good enough answers ! I can make an exam (as a teacher); I can do a noise (as a sound engineer); I can make anything or nothing (if I choose); and in some locations, we can even do lunch. – Howard Pautz Sep 22 '13 at 1:18
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To make is to create.

To do is to perform.

Together, they refer to "accomplish" or "achieve," which is why Latin languages, e.g. the French faire, have one word to refer to both. But English makes a distinction between the two.

  • I like the latter half of your answer, but the tangible/intangible distinction in the former half won't hold up in every situation. For example, it is possible to “make a promise”, “make someone mad”, or “make amends” without creating any physical objects. – Tyler James Young Sep 19 '13 at 20:56
  • @TylerJamesYoung: OK, fixed. – Tom Au Sep 19 '13 at 21:02
  • To confirm, in Italian you have one verb, fare, which covers these functions; but the distinction between do and make is not so clear cut as your answer implies. – Mari-Lou A Sep 20 '13 at 4:29
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You already got an answer about make; there is a trend these days to use "do" for all sorts of verbs e.g. "Let's do lunch". I find this deplorable, but it's common. "Do", at least in the context of this question, serves as a sort of general verb for when there is no good specific verb. e.g. "I'm doing my homework" because we don't have a verb "homeworking"; or "I do my best work in the morning" because this could refer to any kind of work (one could also say "I work best in the morning").

  • -1. "...for all sorts of verbs e.g. lets do lunch". Lunch is not a verb. We normally say, "Let's have lunch". And what about a bed? Bed is not a verb either but we normally say: "She's making the bed". – Mari-Lou A Sep 18 '13 at 9:40
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    @Mari-LouA: I think Peter is saying that people use “do” in place of “all sorts of verbs”. In the example “let's do lunch”, “do” could be standing in for “eat”, “meet for”, or “have” as you've written. Furthermore, “lunch” can be used as a verb, as can “bed” (in other contexts). – Tyler James Young Sep 19 '13 at 17:29
  • Yes, @TylerJamesYoung that is what I meant – Peter Flom - Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '13 at 17:39
  • @TylerJamesYoung this is fine to point out to someone whose level of English is already advanced, but it's an over simplification to say that "do" is used "for when there is no good specific verb". Maybe it's a trend that's true in the US, I suspect it might be, but Peter Flom didn't mention that either in his answer. In the UK whenever I visit, I've never heard "Let's do lunch" by friends or relatives. – Mari-Lou A Sep 20 '13 at 4:14

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