To make or to do? by Samuel van den Nieuwenhof - Profesor de inglés / Insegnante di inglese - Online

Samuel van den Nieuwenhof

Profesor de inglés / Insegnante di inglese

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To make or to do?

To make or to do? In my experience as an English teacher, this is the most difficult thing for students to get right, even at advanced levels. There is something about the way we use these two verbs in English that doesn’t always make sense for students, and the fact that there isn’t a clear translation in Spanish or Italian doesn’t help either!

What do I mean by this? In Spanish, we can get close with the verb ‘hacer’, and in Italian there is ‘fare’. But how do you say it in English? To make, or to do?

How do we know which one to use?

There are two ways we can think about this problem: the easy way, and the hard way. The hard way is what many propose when you Google this very question - study the different instances when we use ‘make’ or ‘do’, and apply the correct one when speaking or writing. For example, this site suggests that we use ‘do’ for actions, obligations and repetitive tasks, while we use ‘make’ when we create things, or do actions voluntarily.

Got it? Let’s try it out.

Your teacher gives you homework. Of course, you have to:

  1. Make your homework.

  2. Do your homework.

Well, homework is an obligation (although I argue you should do it voluntarily), so you’re correct if you said you have to ‘do your homework’.

Let’s think about another scenario. Your mother is coming to visit, and your room is a mess. You need to make it look clean, so you:

  1. Make your bed.

  2. Do your bed.

The answer here is ‘make’, and most speakers and learners would cringe at the sound of ‘do your bed’. But wait, isn’t this an action, and even an obligation? We’ve run into one of the many exceptions to the rule.

So not only do we need to consider the rules, we also need to know when the rules don’t apply (for various reasons.

So is there an easier way? Of course there is!

The easy way to know the difference between make and do: practice, practice, practice.

If you’re exposing yourself to lots of English, you’ll naturally hear when to use one verb or another. Likewise, an astute teacher will correct your mistakes when you make them. With make or do there is no golden rule, but with time you’ll automatically use the right one.

So if you’re starting out, and you’re making a lot of mistakes with these verbs: don’t panic. Everyone does, and it’s something that takes a while to get over. But don’t think you need to put your head down and learn a thousand rules. Just keep speaking and listening, and you’ll go a long way.

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