Looking for a synonym of 'to get by on", I came across "to make do with" and immediately started wondering what the past form of the latter could be. "Make did", "made do", made did" - they all sound weird — but one of them may be the right usage as soon as any other suggestions seem to me just crazy guesses.

Of course I wouldn't use it in the past tense other than in the sentence with "could make do with". It's an idiom, but it's also a verb, and there must be a rule for the cases like this, I believe.

If there is the rule, what is it?

Could you give a couple of examples of the like verbs/verb collocations (I'm not sure about the term)?


3 Answers 3


To make do is a verb form that is composed of two verbs such as to make believe which means:

To pretend or imagine.

The past form of to make do with is made do with. You have to use the past form of to make as it is the first verb and an object of the verb to make is implied in the context.

  • 1
    How silly of me! I should have thought of the "make believe" idiom. I wouldn't have had any doubts then. Thanks a million!
    – Victor B.
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 15:31
  • I don't believe the "with" is specifically necessary to the past-tense form. Both present- and past-tense examples exist with and without the "with". Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 14:51
  • @MontyHarder What is your point?
    – user24743
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 15:06
  • My point is that the answer starts out talking about "To make do" and then shifts to "make do with", which confuses things. Leaving out the "with" would make this consistent. Either that, or edit the title of the OP to say "make do with". Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 17:54

Here is a definition of make do: conveniently, the only example is in the past tense:

We didn't have cupboards so we made do with boxes.

The correct past is made do with. Here is another typical example:

people made do with whatever they could get their hands on Tulle Death Us Do Part - 2013

The usage of this expression has grown rapidly since the first world war and is now quite common. Here is an NGram showing this trend.

  • This Ngram seems to be a most useful thing. I wish I'd known about it earlier. Thanks ever so much.
    – Victor B.
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 15:26
  • You can potentially say "made do" without the "with" in some contexts, e.g., "Was your family poor?" "Yes, but we made do." (Not that I'm saying this is common compared to the full "made do with".)
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 0:26

I would say you had to make do with those answers, if that was all you had to go on.

Equally, if you were caught out in the open on a rainy night, you might have been happy to make do with whatever shelter you could find.

To make do does convey an idea of sub-optimal.

Whilst "I made do with" is perfectly acceptable, extending & compounding in this way (past tense + infinitive) preserves the idiom by shifting the time into the context.

Is this answer any good? - I think it will do.

  • Thanks ever so much for the good answer and welcome to the community! The best.
    – Victor B.
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:10

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