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 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.

  • 8
    Sometimes I even have to make do with using both...
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 17:17

3 Answers 3


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).


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.



The verb make is used when talking about creation or production in a process. In other words, it is used to refer to the result of an action. For example: ‘Make a cup of tea’, ‘Make plans for the future’ or ‘Make a model boat out of wood’.

DO =

The verb ‘do’ is used when we talk about tasks, duties, obligations and routine work. It refers to the process of carrying out these actions. This verb is similar to the formal words perform or execute (as in: execute a command). For example: ‘I did my homework yesterday evening.’ (completed task).

Another use of the verb do is to replace a different verb in the context of a clear or straightforward result. For example: ‘Do the dishes’ (vs. wash the dishes). ‘Do my hair’ means cut, dye, style or perform another similar action on my hair. The word ‘do’ can also be used for recreational and individual sports, such as martial arts. For example: ‘Do karate twice a week’ (take part in this sporting activity, perhaps by attending a class).

'Do' can also be used in questions and for emphasis, as in: 'Do you like ice cream?' and 'I do love her, I really do!' (when someone has said you don't).

IMPORTANT! Non-natives make mistakes with these verbs because 1) they are used differently in their mother tongue or there is no clear distinction 2) they have not memorised collocations with make vs. do in English.

To lean more set expressions with these verbs, you can read this guide with make vs. do collocations and phrasal verbs. (Disclaimer: I wrote this guide for my students, but you are free to read or download it for your personal use)

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