Communication, Grammar, Writing

Make vs. Do: How to Tell Which One Is Correct

The verbs “to make” and “to do” can really be confusing for people who speak English as a second (or third) language. For example, if your native language is Spanish, one verb–hacer–is used for both “to make” and “to do”. Almost every day at TextRanch, someone asks us which verb is the right one, given their particular context.

To add to the confusion, there isn’t any iron clad rule about when to use which verb. The English language is quirky, and “to make” and “to do” are part of this quirkiness. There are, however, some guidelines that can help you remember which one is correct.

“To Make”: Some general guidelines

For the most part, the various forms of “to make” are used when someone is creating or constructing something. The end result is some kind of finished product. Food, for example, is something you make, not something you do:

I am going to make a cake for Ben’s birthday.

Grandma made blueberry muffins for our breakfast.

Lisa is making sandwiches for the picnic.

You would also use a form of “to make” for crafts, works of art, furniture, and items you would use at work.

Do you know how to make a sock puppet?

Who made this wonderful wooden table?

Gerald said he would make the slides for our PowerPoint presentation.

That sounds simple enough, right? Here is where “to make” can get a little tricky. This verb is also used when someone does something to bring about a certain outcome or effect.

Those kids are making too much noise.

Our company made a deal with XYZ Tech.

We have made a lot of new friends in this town.

It was hard for Timo to make a decision about which university to attend.

Some guidelines for “to do”

While “to make” is focused on an object or outcome, “to do” centers around the action or activity itself. Sometimes the activity is a routine task or a duty that a person performs on a regular basis. Other times, the activity is something that requires many different steps.

The Wilsons are doing some work on their house.

I think I can do this job.

When I was growing up on the farm, we had to do our chores every day.

Help! I don’t know how to do this homework.

After dinner, John will do the dishes.

Let’s look at that last sentence a little more closely. When someone is “doing the dishes” it means that he or she is washing the dishes, drying them, and putting them away. Can you also “make dishes”? Yes, you can, but this would mean you are creating plates and bowls out of clay.

What about lunch?

Let’s make lunch.

Let’s do lunch.

Yes, you can use “make” and “do” with “lunch”. However, these sentences have different meanings.

If you are making lunch, you are preparing food that will most likely be eaten in the early afternoon. Meanwhile, if someone asks you to “do lunch”, this means they want to go out to a restaurant and have lunch with you.

“Do lunch” is an expression that is often used in a business context. (You can find more examples of popular business expressions here and here.) If a colleague or your boss asks you to “do lunch”, don’t panic! They do not expect you to prepare the food yourself.

Are you still confused about whether to use “make” or “do”? Click the link below and one of our TextRanch editors will help you.

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