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Could someone please explain to me the difference between the phrases "to make a joke about" and "to joke about" please?


Also, is it grammatical to say "subject joke(s) about someone"? For example, could I say "I joke about Tim"? Or, would I have to say "I make jokes about Tim" instead? Similarly, is the sentence "I joke about the president" grammatical?

I appreciate your time! Thanks in advance! :)

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    Several dictionaries define the verb joke as make jokes, so the only difference is that joke about someone could refer to more than one joke. Feb 28, 2023 at 9:08
  • All your examples are grammatical. If you give the precise context and what you want to say, it's easier to tell which is most appropriate.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 28, 2023 at 9:57
  • Please review the use of simple present in English. I joke about my teachers every day. Until you grasp that, there's no point going into to joking versus making jokes.
    – Lambie
    Feb 28, 2023 at 15:29

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"Make" here is what Huddleston & Pullum (2002) call a "light" verb, one that contributes fairly little meaning of its own. The one difference is that, while "joke about" could refer to an ongoing activity in which you tell multiple jokes, "make a joke about" only ever refers to telling a single joke.

In this case, when using the simple present, you can only be describing a habitual action, so this distinction is irrelevant. Thus "I joke about Tim all the time" and "I make jokes about Tim all the time" have the same meaning, with "all the time" making the habitual interpretation clear. Without a qualifier like "all the time," however, "I make jokes about Tim" is somewhat preferable, since "I joke about Tim" could be interpreted as describing an ongoing activity with the simple present, which is invalid.

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  • Thank you for the thorough explanation! I am teaching English abroad, and "to joke about something" was one of the phrases that my students had to learn. I found it strange that it did not say "to joke about something or someone" because my intution told me that both were grammatical. However, when I searched for the word "joke" in the dictionary, I could not find a clear-cut answer to my question. That is the main reason why I asked this question.
    – Dorian
    Mar 4, 2023 at 8:14

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