Sunday, August 10, 2008

Teaching the Difference Between MAKE and DO

Distinguishing the Differences Between “Make” and “Do”

English as a Foreign Language learners like those whose first language, L1, is Spanish can have considerable difficulty in distinguishing when to use “make” and when to use “do”. Why? It’s because in Spanish, for example, the same verb, “hacer”, is commonly used to represent both. The trick then, is to find a way of aiding these English language learners with making the distinction.

Here’s how I do it.


Essentially “make” means to “create” or cause something to happen or produce a result. You make a cake, make noise, make trouble or make friends.


On the other hand, “do” usually signifies simply performing an action without alluding to the results. So you do aerobics or exercises, do business or do your job. You can do well or do badly, do better or do worse.

Other Uses of Make and Do

Depending on context, both make and do can be used in a sentence to give it different meanings. A good example is homework. Teachers make homework and exams, but learners do homework or take exams ("do" is less commonly used here.

The two verbs form a part of scores of idioms and expressions too. This can sometimes cause their distinction to be less clear, but usually the definitions given above still hold true. Some additional examples using “Do” and “Make” are:


Do a dance, do a deal, do as you’re told, do away with, do chores, do favors, do harm, do it yourself, do (it or something) over again, do someone in, do the dishes, do the laundry, do the right thing, do time, do well, do without, do your best, do your duty


Make a contract, make a delivery, make a difference, make a list, make a mess, make a phone call, make a point, make a profit, make a promise, make amends, make an effort, make believe, make contact, make enemies, make fun of someone, make love, make money, make news, make out, make over (very similar in context to do over), make peace, make room, make sense, make someone happy, make someone laugh, make someone sad, make sure, make the bed, make time, make room, make tracks, make up (has multiple meanings), make up a story (same as create a story), make up your mind, make war, and make way

This is but a quick reference list to give you some idea of the range and distinction that using “do” and “make” can have in the colloquial English language. For the most part, after a session expaining and demonstrating these language elements in context, my learners have far fewer problems in distinguishing when to use “make” and when to use “do”. I hope that this helps you and your EFL learners too.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, prolific writer, author and public speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 100 countries. Get your FREE E-book, "If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting lesson. Now I can explain my students the difference between MAKE and DO. I think that there are some other verbs that always confuse Spanish speakers who are learning English. For example the difference between SAY and TELL, HAVE or EAT breakfast, lunch and dinner. HAVE, EAT or DRINK ice cream, soup.

Jonny Algarañaz
Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Unknown said...

Thank you! I was so lost trying to explain "to do" until I found your blog... so helpful!