Is it popular, how often, and in which cases does "do" take place of other verbs? Can it be used in written and in spoken English? Can we use "do" instead of any verb? Should we often provide context in such situations?


  • Hey, John. Do the window. It's cold in here. (Close the window)

  • Johanna, would you please do the dishes? The sink is full already. (Wash the dishes)

  • Ron did the ground all morning. He's dug up the entire garden. (Dug the ground)

  • Susan should do the papers before the office calls. They are in such a mess. (Pile up the papers)

  • I did the door last night. She always had trouble opening it. (Fixed the door)

  • Somebody, please do the light. It's so dark in here. (Turn on the light)

  • Using 'do' instead of 'leave' would cause problems. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 1 '16 at 12:30
  • @EdwinAshworth "Hey, Steve, do her alone!" (Leave her alone)? I guess it sounds very awkward (I love this word "awkward"). – SovereignSun Nov 1 '16 at 12:32
  • In your third example i think 'did the digging' or 'did the garden' would be more idiomatic than 'did the ground'. – Spagirl Nov 1 '16 at 12:52
  • @Spagirl I guess so, yet I wanted to emphasis the verb "dig" that's been replaced with "did". – SovereignSun Nov 1 '16 at 12:54
  • @EdwinAshworth though i wouldn't say 'has done the garden all morning', rather something like 'spent all morning doing the garden'. – Spagirl Nov 1 '16 at 12:59

The British Council_Learn English article on delexical verbs addresses these issues:


We use do the with –ing nouns to do with work, especially work in the house:

It’s your turn to do the cooking.

You do the washing up and I’ll do the drying.

and with other nouns to do with work:

I need to do a few jobs around the house.

I can’t come out this evening. I have a lot of work to do.


We use do with noun [phrase]s when it is obvious [or reasonably obvious] what the action is:

I’ll have to do my hair before we go out. = I’ll have to brush my hair.

Have you done your teeth? = Have you cleaned your teeth?

[but] A question like

Have you done the car?

could mean

Have you washed the car?

Have you mended the car?

Have you put petrol in the car?

depending on the context.

  • "We use do with nouns when it is obvious what the action is" Without context who could know that "Have you done your teeth?" means "Have you cleaned your teeth?" it could be, "Have you fixed your teeth?", "Have you brushed you teeth?", "Have you shined your teeth?" – SovereignSun Nov 1 '16 at 12:50
  • 1
    Agreed; I'd expect '... do your hair' to include washing. I've adjusted their over-generalisation. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 1 '16 at 12:53
  • @SovereignSun wouldn't brushed and shined mean the same as cleaned in this context? And usually you get someone else to fix your teeth so that would be 'have you had/did you get your teeth done? – Spagirl Nov 1 '16 at 12:55
  • @Spagirl Some teeth are detachable, and need soaking. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 1 '16 at 12:57
  • @Spagirl As much as I've heard it. "To brush your teeth" means "To clean them with a toothbrush". "To shine your teeth" means "To brush them and make them whiter (shiny)", "To clear your teeth" is just an oral hygiene and can be done in many ways even by means of a dentist. – SovereignSun Nov 1 '16 at 12:59

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