To Do: A Very Busy Verb (Part One)

The verb “to do” is one of the most versatile and commonly used verbs in the English language. Unfortunately, like other common, versatile verbs (such as “to be”), “to do” can also be confusing, especially for English language learners. In this article, we will explore some of the different uses of “to do” and provide some example sentences to make everything clearer for you.

Action: Something to do

The main meaning of “to do” is to perform or carry out an action or a series of actions. We often use “to do” for a task that requires many different steps, such as a dance:

My grandparents loved to do all those jazz dances that were popular in the 1940s.

We sometimes also use it for a task that someone performs on a regular or routine basis. Again, it is usually a task that requires many different steps:

Every member of the family has many chores to do every day.

Can you help me figure out how to do this math homework?

Isn’t it Dad’s turn to do the laundry?

Simple forms of “to do”

Before we look at other ways to use “to do”, we need to go over the simple different forms of the verb. Fortunately, the different forms of “to do” aren’t as irregular as the different forms of certain other verbs such as “to be” or “to go”, so it’s easier to remember them!

We will start with the simple past and present tense forms of “to do”:

SubjectSimple Present TenseSimple Past TenseExamples
II doI didI do the dishes every night.
I did the dishes last night.
YouYou doYou didWill you do the presentation on Friday?
You did the presentation on Friday.
He/She/ItHe/She/It doesHe/She/It didJamie always does a good job on year-end reports.
Jamie did a good job on the year-end report.
WeWe doWe didWe do an elaborate Nativity play at church every Christmas.
We did an elaborate Nativity play at church last Christmas.
TheyThey doThey didOn Wednesdays, Mike and Sonya do the clean-up at the end of the work shift.
Last Wednesday, Mike and Sonya did the clean-up at the end of the work shift.


The above forms of “to do” can also be used to emphasize something in a statement, or to highlight someone’s feelings or desires. When “to do” used in this way, it is usually followed by another verb. In the below sentences, both the form of “to do” and the second verb are written in boldface.

I do want to help with the project, but I will be out of town at that time.

Jason does think you’re pretty, but he isn’t ready to date anyone right now.

Although the Garcia family did consider moving to a new house, they are staying in their current neighborhood.

Amal is not uneducated. He did earn a degree in computer science. He just hasn’t found a job in his field yet.

Common expressions

“To do” is also used in a lot of common, everyday expressions. The list below also include the meanings of the expressions, since they can sometimes be confusing for English language learners.

  • Do without: To manage without something that is needed or really wanted. (We will have to do without TV this week.)
  • Do someone a favor: Help someone or act on their behalf. (Max did me a favor when he fixed my flat tire.)
  • Do your best: Try as hard as you can. (Just do your best on the exam and you should pass the course.)
  • Do time: To spend time in jail or prison. (Steve used to sell drugs and he even did time at Jackson Prison in the 1990s.)
  • Do your thing: Perform an action or stunt that you enjoy, or to live your life however you want in general. (You can go ahead and do your thing now.)
  • Do the right thing: Behave in a way that is morally correct. (The kids did the right thing and returned the wallet they found to its rightful owner.)
  • Do away with: Get rid of something or stop something. (At my kids’ school, they want to do away with early dismissals on Fridays.)
  • Do lunch: Eat lunch, usually in a restaurant. (Let’s do lunch at that Indian restaurant on Washington Avenue.)
  • Do a number on someone: To trick someone in a bad way, or to hurt them. (That used car salesman really did a number on my uncle.)
  • Make do: To finish a task or job without the right supplies or equipment. (I know we need more paint, but we’ll have to make do.)

As long as we are on the subject of “make” and “do”, these two verbs are often confused with one another. Don’t worry—we already have a blog article about that! You can find it here.

There are additional forms and uses of “to do” that we have not covered in this article. We will look at those in the near future. In the meantime, if you are having trouble figuring out how to use “to do”, click the blue button below. One of our TextRanch editors will take a look at your writing and provide you with some corrections and feedback.

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