Friday, March 5, 2010

DO vs MAKE: "Make a choice and just do it!"

One of the most challenging things to learn in English as a Second Language (ESL) is when to use DO and when to use MAKE.

The truth is that there really aren’t fixed rules about this. But fortunately, there are clear patterns to follow. Here they are:


Used when referring to work, an action, an activity, a task or a desired result in a generic way. They key point here is that all this DOING does not (usually) produce a
physical object.

the work

do your homework
do your job
do a crossword puzzle
do the shopping
do the laundry
do the washing
do the washing up
do anything
do everything
do nothing
do badly
do business
do the dishes
do a favour
do good
do harm
do time - (to go to prison)
do well
do your best
do your hair
do your nails
do your worst
do it - (that's right... Nike didn't invent the phrase, but they made it famous)


Used when referring to constructing, building or creating something physical or tangible.

make a cake
make a house

make food
make coffee
make breakfast / lunch / dinner
make a dress
make a work of art

Also used for a number of standard expressions that follow no particular pattern. You just need to learn them.

make amends
make arrangements
make believe - (to pretend)
make a choice
make a comment
make a decision
make a difference
make an effort
make an enquiry
make an excuse
make a fool of yourself
make a fortune
make friends
make a fuss
make a journey
make love
make a mess
make a mistake
make money
make a move
make a noise
make a phone call
make a plan
make a point
make a profit
make a promise
make a remark
make a sound
make a speech
make a suggestion
make time
make a visit
make your bed - (to prepare the bed for sleeping in)


  1. Solid, detailed, and important.

    I've found that students - at almost all levels - can gain from a systematic review of "do" vs "make". While often seen as an activity for lower intermediate, advanced students can benefit from the study of many idiomatic expressions from these two simple, pervasive words.

  2. One more note: some Canadian and American teachers like to teach this as "Dudley DO right" and "Mary Make Merry" to emphasize that "do" often implies an obligation and "make" is a creative activity that often comes from personal choice. And, in North America, we pretend that "making money" is both creative and a choice!

  3. Thanks for the input and for the tips, Eric!