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In my native language, portuguese, "make" and "do" can be translated into one verb "fazer". When I write an English sentence I never know which one to use. So my question is regarding about when to use "make" versus when to use "do". Can someone provide some guidance about which situations it is most appropriate to use each of them? I always get confused about it.

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Sometimes I even have to make do with using both... – RegDwigнt Mar 15 '11 at 17:17
up vote 13 down vote accepted

This is a hard question, and there is a lot of idiom involved.

The cases where you can be reasonably sure that "make" is right is

  • when you are creating something: "make a salad", "make a home", "make a mess", "make a film".
  • when you are causing somebody or something to do something: "make somebody listen", "make him stop", "make the book stay open"
  • when you are causing somebody or something to be a certain way: "make him late", "made me happy".

"Do" tends to be more general, and tends not to be used in the cases above (and is rarely used with a direct object except for a word like "job" or "task" - but see below).

"Do" is also used as "pro-verb" in questions and replies, standing for almost all verbs, including "make": "What did you do?" "I made a cake".

But there are many idiomatic cases which are not obviously predictable. We "do" the shopping, the washing ("do the laundry" in the US, I believe), the dishes, the windows (i.e. clean them), our homework, our tax return; but we "make" the bed (i.e. arrange the bedding neatly).

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As a last resort, quick-and-dirty rule-of-thumb:

  • Use "make" where you could use "create".
  • Use "do" elsewhere.

This isn't even close to a complete answer, as @Colin Fine gave a more thorough answer. But in the spirit of small rules to shape your way of "thinking in English", this may help.

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