You’ve studied your English verb conjugation.
You’ve got a great grasp of vocabulary and your accent is perfect.
You’re talking to native speakers and understanding every single word.
In short, you’re feeling great.
And then, out of nowhere, two annoying little verbs make you stop right in the middle of your sentence:
Should I use make or do?
These two verbs are used in hundreds of daily situations, but it can be easy to mix them up.
You ask yourself questions like:
Did I just do a cake or make a cake?
Did I do exercise or make exercise?
But don’t get frustrated! Once you learn the difference between make and do, your English-speaking confidence will grow.
Let’s take a look at two of the most commonly confused verbs for English learners.
Please don’t worry, you can do it!
Learn the Difference Between “Make” and “Do”: A Stress-free Guide for English Learners
Why Are “Make” and “Do” Commonly Confused?
First, let’s see why so many English learners have problems with “make” and “do.”
In many languages, including Spanish and Italian, one verb is used to mean both “make” and “do.” Because of this, it’s very common for speakers of these languages to have trouble knowing the difference between “make” and “do.”
In fact, it’s one of the most common errors I’ve seen as an English teacher in Spain and abroad, generally. So, if you’re having trouble, you’re not alone!
“Make” and “do” are also confusing because there’s no standard rule that explains the usage of both verbs completely. Instead, there are some loose definitions that help us understand their general meanings. There are also many exceptions that are contrary to these general definitions. This can be frustrating.
Finally, these two verbs are difficult because they’re both very common words that appear in many phrasal verbs and collocations. Sometimes, phrasal verbs don’t match with the general definitions of “make” and “do,” so you just have to memorize them.
How to Practice “Make” and “Do”
You may be asking: “What can I do to make these verbs less difficult?”
Do you see what I did there?
Throughout this article, you can see the verbs “make” and “do” used in a natural way. That’s because reading and listening to English is one of the best ways to learn the difference between “make” and “do.” English immersion helps you learn which word sounds correct in a sentence.
After you finish this article, you can continue immersing yourself in English from your own home with a number of useful and engaging resources available online.
Here are some of the best ways to practice these “make” and “do” through immersion:
- If you don’t live in an English-speaking country, you can immerse yourself by watching authentic English videos on FluentU.
On FluentU, you can find real-world English videos like movie trailers, music videos, news clips and inspiring talks. In these videos, you’ll hear native English speakers having normal conversations. You’re guaranteed to hear “make” and “do” since they’re so common. While you watch, you can also follow along with interactive English subtitles. It’s a great way to learn how English speakers really talk! Check out FluentU’s free trial to learn more.
- Another way to learn the difference between “make” and “do” is to read books in English. This will help you get comfortable with the different collocations and phrasal verbs that use “make” and “do.”
- You can also create your own learning materials to help you practice “make” and “do.” For example, you can create a mind map, or practice writing scripts or conversations using the two verbs.
- If you don’t feel you’re ready for immersion, you can start by taking this short quiz on the difference between “make” and “do.”
- It’s also a great idea to scroll through YouTube, where you can find some helpful grammar videos that explain the difference between “make” and “do.”
Now, let’s take a look at a simple breakdown of the two verbs below. Let’s get this journey started!
When to Use the Verb “Make”
“Make” implies an act of creation, construction or production and in this way is often closely related to activities such as the 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 take on a number of 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 leather jackets 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. 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 matched 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.
Arguably the most common usage 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?”
Frequent Errors and Exceptions
As a general rule, then, “make” implies construction or production, and “do” implies activities or actions.
However, it’s not always that simple.
After years of teaching abroad, I’ve noted a number of frequent errors that students make when they use these two verbs.
Please be aware that this is in no way an exhaustive (full) list but simply what I have seen as an English teacher. If you make some of these errors, don’t worry! I’ve provided the correct constructions as well.
Incorrect: make exercise
Correct: do exercise, or simply, exercise
I’m feeling a bit tired, I need to do some exercise.
I like to exercise in the evenings.
Incorrect: make a favor
Correct: do a favor
Could you do me a favor and send me that great YouTube video about the difference between “make” and “do”?
Incorrect: do an effort
Correct: make an effort
My grades in Spanish class are getting worse! I need to make more of an effort.
Incorrect: make one’s homework
Correct: do one’s homework
I’m going to be in trouble at school today because I forgot to do my homework.
Incorrect: make exams
Correct: take exams
I need totake one more exam before I finish my degree.
Incorrect: make a travel
Correct: go on a holiday/trip
I’m going on a trip next year to Bali.
Incorrect: take a decision
Correct: make a decision
I need to make a decision about which subject I will study next year.
Incorrect: make a party
Correct: have a party
We’re going to have a big party for your birthday!
A Useful List of Daily Collocations and Expressions with “Make” and “Do”
This is by no means a complete list. However, it’s a good list of very common expressions with “make” and “do.” Learning these common collocations is a good start for mastering these two verbs.
You can continue building this table by adding other common English expressions, collocations and phrasal verbs that you learn.
|Collocations with "Make"||Collocations with "Do"|
|Make breakfast/dinner/lunch etc.||Do exercise|
|Make the bed||Do a favor|
|Make a mistake||Do the dishes|
|Make a decision||Do wrong|
|Make a choice||Do right|
|Make a plan||Do good|
|Make money||Do harm|
|Make an attempt||Do the shopping|
|Make an appointment||Do damage|
|Make progress||Do one's best|
|Make an offer||Do business|
|Make friends||Do research|
|Make a mess||Do one's hair|
|Make a suggestion||Do a job|
|Make a promise||Do a project|
|Make a wish||Do homework|
Learning the difference between “make” and “do” isn’t an easy task.
It requires dedication, commitment and consistent practice.
But I believe that you can do it!
By focusing on native English content and memorization tools, you can master these verbs and use them like a native English speaker. Keep at it, and don’t give up!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.