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Do or make? If you have problems choosing between do and make when you’re speaking English, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common questions that I hear in my classes, and the truth is that I still don’t think that we teachers have a totally satisfactory explanation (if the answer was satisfactory, people wouldn’t keep asking…).

DO by Default

My best advice for anyone who suffers with this problem in English is to try to program your mind to use do as your first option and reserve make for “exceptions” that you can try to learn in categories. Do is much more common in spoken English and is the word we use when we don’t know what action we want to describe (“What the hell are you doing?”, for example).

At work, you might do audits, training or a monthly report. At home, you do the cleaning, you go out and do the shopping and if there’s time afterwards, you might even do some English homework.

MAKE is Creative

All of the routine jobs mentioned above go with do because they’re not creative. You don’t make anything new when you do an evaluation or a survey; you just occupy yourself with an activity. The work that you do might include making things, a baker makes bread and a carpenter makes chairs, but for most of us these days, our “To do” list doesn’t contain many things that need to be made.

Creating by Speaking

Basically, I think English people use make when we think that something new is being created and do for anything else, and if you’re not worried about making a few minor mistakes, this rule will serve you pretty well.

The problem for perfectionists is that “creation” in English is not limited to things that you consciously make with your hands. If you make a promise, you manufacture it by speaking, and the same is true when you make an offer, a threat or an apology.

When you say one of these things (for us, at least), you create or generate a new situation, and this is our justification for putting “speaking actions” in the creative make category. If you can accept this idea that complaints and promises are things that we make like car engines and brownies, and if you use do for all the rest, you won’t go too far wrong.

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