Make or Do: Learn the Difference with this Simple Guide

Have you ever asked yourself, Should I use make or do?

These two common verbs are used in hundreds of daily situations, but it can be easy to confuse them.

Once you learn the difference between these two verbs, your confidence when speaking English will grow.

And you will no longer have to feel frustrated every time you have to use one of them!


The Difference Between “Make” and “Do”

In general, “make” is used when you create, produce, or construct something physical or abstract (cannot be seen or touched). It implies bringing something into existence or causing a change.

Generally, “do” is used when you perform an action, complete a task, or engage in an activity without producing a tangible object (something you can see or touch). 

However, it’s important to note that there are exceptions and specific expressions where one word is used over the other. It takes practice to get used to using them correctly.

In the table below, you will find some of the most common collocations (words that usually go together) with “make” and “do.” 

Collocations with "Make"Collocations with "Do"
Make breakfast/dinner/lunch etc.Do exercise
Make the bedDo a favor
Make a mistakeDo the dishes
Make a decisionDo wrong
Make a choiceDo right
Make a planDo good
Make moneyDo harm
Make an attemptDo the shopping
Make an appointmentDo damage
Make progressDo one's best
Make an offerDo business
Make friendsDo research
Make a messDo one's hair
Make a suggestionDo a job
Make a promiseDo a project
Make a wishDo homework

To get a better grasp of (clearly understand) the main differences between these two verbs, you can watch the video below.


When to Use the Verb “Make”

“Make” implies an act of creation, construction or production and is often closely related to activities such as cooking, baking and household duties.

I’m going to make some breakfast, would you like some?

What are you making for dinner? It smells delicious.

I made a chocolate cake last night.

“Make” in the sense of creation or construction can have some other meanings. Sometimes, we talk about making physical objects, but we can also talk about making intangible (non-physical) objects like a plan, a law or a decision.

The government needs to make new laws to protect the homeless citizens.

I’ve been making dresses for over 20 years because it’s my specialty.

You need to make a decision about which car you want to buy.

When to Use the Verb “Do”

The verb “do” is more active and generally requires a specific action. It often involves tasks, obligations, or general activities.

If it helps, you can think of the world-famous Nike slogan: Just do it!

I try to do some exercise every day.

She is going to do some gardening this weekend.

We all did a lot of work yesterday.

“Do” is also commonly used in questions about daily activities. A general way to ask someone about their day is to say:

What did you do today?

The verb “do” is also frequently used with indefinite pronouns like “nothing,” “something” or “anything” to talk generally about actions:

Did you do anything today?

I did nothing all week.

Maybe tomorrow we can do something different. 

One of the most common usages of the verb “to do” is in the question:

What do you do? 

This question is understood to mean “What do you do for work?” or “What is your job, profession or career?”

Why Are “Make” and “Do” Commonly Confused?

In many languages, including Spanish and Italian, one verb is used to mean both “make” and “do.” This makes it hard for speakers of these languages to understand the difference between the two English verbs.

“Make” and “do” are also confusing because there is no standard rule that completely explains how to use both verbs. Instead, there are some loose definitions that help us understand their general meanings. There are also many exceptions that are contrary to (go against/oppose) these general definitions. 

Finally, these two verbs are difficult because they are both very common words that appear in many phrasal verbs and expressions. Sometimes, phrasal verbs do not match with the general definitions of “make” and “do,” so you just have to memorize them.

Frequent Errors and Exceptions

As a general rule, “make” implies construction or production, and “do” implies activities or actions. However, it is not always that simple.

I have noted some frequent errors that English students often make when they use these two verbs. You will find these common errors and their corrections below.

make exercisedo exercise (or just "exercise")I'm feeling a bit tired, I need to do some exercise.

I like to exercise in the evenings.
make a favordo a favorCould you do me a favor and feed my cat while I'm gone?
do an effortmake an effortYou need to make more of an effort to get better grades in school. 
make homeworkdo homeworkI forgot to do my homework for English class!
make examstake examsI need to take one more exam before I finish my degree.
make a travel/tripgo on a trip/holidayI'm going on a trip to Bali next year.
take a decisionmake a decisionI need to make a decision about which subject I will study next year.
make a partyhave a partyWe're going to have a big party for your birthday!


Try to pay attention when you hear one of these verbs to get more familiar with their different uses.

Keep practicing and review this post when you get confused. You can also turn to language learning programs to improve your understanding of the two words. FluentU, for example, is a good way to hear the words in use by native English speakers.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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And One More Thing...

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