To make or to do? This is the question.

Two verbs, to do and to make, are confusing for English language learners.

You can do your homework, do your exercises, do your best, and still make mistakes and make little progress.

In French it’s relatively simple. One verb, faire, fits all. You can do almost everything and make just about any sentence with faire:

faire du shopping, fait la bise, faire demi-tour, faire des progrès and faire la grasse matinée

GRAMMAR RULE: Well, to be honest, there really isn’t one. Sorry. Here is a general guide to do and make. Hopefully, it will make some sense. Ready? Let’s do it.


Of course, we use DO for questions and answers as an auxiliary verb

Do you live here? Yes, I do. She doesn’t see him anymore.

But, in this article, we are interested in DO as the main verb.

We use DO to talk about work, jobs or tasks.

You can say: I did my homework. I never do the cleaning on Sundays. Susan did the shopping. I have done the dishes (washing-up). I’ll do the cooking tonight.

Important: You can do the cooking, do the cleaning and do the dishes, but you make a cake or make some bread and make dinner.

GENERAL RULE: DO is used for a simple task. MAKE is associated with often more complex tasks that make, produce, or transform something.

DO is often used in a general sense with words such as good, something, nothing, everything.

You can say: She did nothing. She can do better. Do your best. I did everything I could. Have you seen the Spike Lee film, ‘Do the Right Thing’?

DO can also be used to replace a verb when the meaning is clear.

You can say:

Georges: We must make a presentation tomorrow at the meeting. Can you do it for me, Elli? (make the presentation)

Elli: I’ll do it (make the presentation).

Maria: I haven’t finished the business plan.

Sébastien: It’s okay, I’ll do the rest. (I will finish the business plan)

Here’s list of DO expressions to remember:

DO your best, do the shopping, do some exercise, do something, do some sport, do the cooking, do the washing, do someone a favour, do your hair (brush it), do business, do a good job, do nothing, do badly, do harm, do your nails.

Idioms with DO:

What do you do? (What is your job?)

Just do it! has become a well-worn mantra of 21st century. Shia LaBeouf explains.


a to-do list: a list of things to do

to do time: to be in prison

do a double take: Look twice at someone or something because you are shocked or surprised.

do one’s duty: fulfil a responsibility or a duty.

do or die: a critical situation, if you don’t act now everything will be lost.

BRAINTEASER: (advanced level) Your challenge is to write two understandable sentences with the following words together: make do and do make. Send your replies to [email protected]


MAKE has the sense of creating and producing something. It may involve a number of actions. You can make a cake, make dinner, make a cup of tea, make a bed, make a dress, make a presentation, make a plan. Made in Switzerland.

MAKE is also used to describe an action or result. You can say: Cauliflower makes me sick. She makes me jealous. He makes me happy. That makes sense.

Or as Aretha Franklin says: You make me feel like a natural woman.


You can also: make a decision, make a choice, make love, make a complaint, make a mess, make a suggestion, make a comment, make a mistake, make a fool of yourself, make friends, make someone happy, make a call, make a list, make a presentation, make a joke.

A few idioms with MAKE:

make up your mind: to make a decision (informal)

can’t make heads or tails of something: when you don’t understand something

make your blood boil: something that makes you extremely angry.

make your day: something that makes your day happy; an expression made famous by Clint Eastwood.


A SHORT EXERCISE. Do you best. ?You will need to put the verb make or do in the correct tense.

The children _______ a mess in the kitchen while ______ the cake.

After he ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______ the washing, he ________ the shopping

Can you ______ me a favour and _____ the presentation tomorrow? I know you will ____ your best. We really need to ____ business with companies like this or we will never ____ a profit.

I suggest you ____ her a cup of tea and then ______ your apology.

I can’t eat pineapple. It _____ me sick.

You must ____ a choice. You cannot _____ nothing. You must _____ something.

You must ­­­­_____ a decision. Now is the time to ­­­­______ up your mind. I am sure you will ­­­­­_____ the right thing.

Well done. Go and make yourself a coffee or a cup of tea.

Garry Littman

Garry Littman est le fondateur de The Language House à Genève. The Language House propose des coachings d'anglais à Genève pour les particuliers et les entreprises, ainsi que des cours intensifs d'anglais dans les pays anglophones. Garry a été journaliste en Australie et en Asie, il a travaillé pour World Radio Switzerland.

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