What are the differences between "Do dishes / laundry / household chores..." & "Do the dishes / the laundry / the household chores..."?

I would say:

Do / wash dishes: refers to dishes in general. Eg: I do dishes every day

Do / wash the dishes: refers to the specific dishes that have been used & need to be washed. Eg: I will do the dishes before I go

Do laundry: refers to "laundry" in general. Eg: I do laundry every day

Do the laundry: refers to the specific laundry that need to be done. Eg: I will do the laundry before I go

Do household chores: refers to "household chores" in general. Eg: I do household chores every day

Do the household chores: refers to the specific household chores that need to be done. Eg: I will do the household chores before I go

Do housework: refers to "housework" in general. Eg: I do housework every day

Do the housework: refers to the specific housework that need to be done. Eg: I will do the housework before I go

The same principle applies to:

-"do homework" & "do the homework"

-"hang clothes" & "hang the clothes"

-"make lunch" & "make my / the lunch"

-"make beds" & "make the bed / the beds"

-"mop floors" & "mop the floor / the floors"

But I am not sure if I am right because people may say:

Eg: I often wash dishes and do the laundry. They say "do the laundry" even though they are talking about it in general


The direct article ("the") is used for something known to both the speaker/writer and the listener/reader. In this context, "the" strongly implies the standard tasks associated with maintaining (or "keeping") one's own house. We're generally familiar with the amount of dishes and laundry and unmade beds that a family produces, so "the" sounds natural:

I did the dishes. (= I washed the typical amount of dishes.)

I did the laundry. (= I took care of the normal amount of laundry.)

I made the beds. (= I made the beds that I'm typically responsible for.)

When "the" is omitted, it implies an uncertainty in the amount of laundry or number of dishes or unmade beds. This might connote an unexpectedly large or ambiguous amount of work:

I did dishes all night (because we had a dinner party with many guests).

I do laundry until 1 am (because my family produces a lot of laundry).

I make beds (because I work in a hotel).

The same conventions apply to mopping floors and hanging clothes.

Similarly, you might report to a friend

I did chores today (that you don't know about).

But you would tell your partner/spouse

I did the chores today. (= I did the chores that we discussed earlier.)

The concept of housework is ambiguous because it encompasses so many possibilities. You probably wouldn't say "the housework" unless the other person knew the typical or exact tasks.

Finally, homework is generally different every time, so you'd only say "the homework" if you were discussing a specific homework assignment:

I spend about two hours on homework every night.

I'm worried about today's quiz because I didn't do the homework last night.

  • +1, but I don't think you need to split hairs with housework. the housework implies the conventional sort of things that need to be done around the house, stuff everybody is familiar with. Aug 3 '18 at 18:45

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