The difference between do and make causes many students a lot of confusion and frustration and while there are some rules of thumb about when to use each, a lot of it is memorizing individual cases. First, let’s look at the general rules of when to use each.
Do for indefinite Activities
We use do when we are not defining the activity that we’re talking about. For example: “He did something really strange last night” we don’t know what this action is (he could have been riding his bike around the streets of his neighbourhood naked, he could have been sleeping on his roof instead of his bedroom…any number of things).
This means that when we use words like “something” “anything” or “nothing” we’re going to use “do”.
“I haven’t done anything.” “He was doing something with his computer when I came into his room.”
Do for Speaking about work and jobs
If we’re referring to something that we can class as work or a job we use “do”. For example;
“Have you done your homework?” “I’m doing some work for a telecommunications company at the minute,” “I’m doing some uni work”
Do for Household Chores
Usually for things we do around the house we use the verb “do” EXCEPTION: make the bed
“Can you do the ironing tonight?” “I need to do the dishes,” “She was up until two o’clock this morning doing her laundry!”
Do … (determiner) +ing
This is for when we speak about activities in a generalized way and we normally use it with a determiner such as: some, a little, a lot, the, my etc
“I want to do some reading before going to bed” is the same as saying “I want to read before bed”
“I have to do a lot of studying for this test”
In this structure we can’t use an object in the sentence: “
I’d like to do some reading magazines” this is because the -ing form in this way functions like a noun.
Make for Food & Drinks
We use make for food and drinks because it relates to constructing something, and in that case we normally use make.
“I made a cake today” “Did you make lunch already?” “Can you make me a cup of tea?”
But note that you can sometimes hear “do” being used with food and drinks, it’s colloquial and it’s perfectly correct: “Will I do a lasagne for lunch?”
Make for constructing things
For example: “He made that table by himself.”
If the verb can be replaced by another verb like “build” or “construct” then 9/10 times it can be used with make
There are a lot of other cases of “do” or “make” which are simply a matter for memorization because they don’t follow a specific rule.
Try keeping a word document on your phone and writing down any new expressions you hear under the headings DO or MAKE.
To get you started I’ve made an infographic with some common expressions that use Do and Make.
If you find it helpful please share it 🙂
Do you know any other expressions with make or do that aren’t on the list? Share them below in the comments to help other learners!
Rule of Thumb: this is a way to say a general rule
Do uni work: here we use do because we are referring to uni work collectively, it could be any number of things that you do for your university degree. However, if we’re referring to one piece of uni work (for example, a 2,000 word document about a given topic) we call that an essay or a report. We don’t say “a work”:
“I have to do a work for my English Literature class”
“I have to do an essay for my English Literature class.”