Why is "make do" considered correct?

I am specifically not asking why "make due" grinds people's gears, how distressing they find it, or what they feel "make do" would mean.

Lacking an etymology, why are people so adamant about it, instead of accepting that there are two variants?

The grammar of "make do" is rather uncommon, let's face it. It is not the same as "make it do" and proposing the hapology of "it" is for the most part not well founded, rather unsubstantiated, based on intuition only.

The formation of "make do", as much or little sense as it makes, could well be an intuitive reinterpretation of "make due", that stuck simply because "do" is the more common word. Whether "due" were less obvious depends on context. The context isn't known. It would be difficult to understand if used metaphorically, out of context. "make due" could itself be a mishearing of other expressions with formal terminology inaccessible to those who had to make do, finding which is not the primary goal of this question. Note that French, specifically Anglo-Norman is a late influence on English and as such possibly prone for misunderstandings in the influential phase.

So, the question should be correctly, why is make due considered incorrect? Because you don't understand it, alright. Then I wonder, how can it be that anywhere between 10 to 0.1 percent, depending on which statistician you ask, do understand "make due"?

Surely, if people write "make due", before they are corrected, they have a loose imagination of the sense, and certainly don't find "make do" convincing. The reason why they suddenly find that wrong would be interesting.

So the question should really be

Why is "make due" considered correct?

Regarding the statistics, you also have to note the homophony of "due" and "do" which exists only in some areas. That might be the reason that readers are so brought up by it, like, "how could you even misunderstand that?". Thus, one has to wonder whether there are areas without this homophony where they say "make due".

Given that there's no single authority on orthography, authoritative answers don't count. The question isn't limited to orthography anyhow.

Related Questions:

Meaning of "I'll make due"

Is "make due" now considered acceptable?

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    "Make do" is correct because it's the established expression. Whether or not some people get it wrong is irrelevant. People often say 'would of' for 'would have', but that doesn't make it correct English. – Kate Bunting Feb 11 at 9:56
  • @KateBunting people writing would of may be a different matter. Are you implying they grow up not recognizing would've, not making the connection to would have or even drawing the (what's the opposite of established, not to say wrong) association? It is somewhat different because we have ample evidence for what it has been. I do not think the definitions at established fit the case. Ca. 100 years is not a long time, at least not in relation to the existence of the language ... in which make due (...) has been common for long. – vectory Feb 11 at 16:48
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    @vectory: You may find the answer you're looking for here english.stackexchange.com/q/363665/155621 – uday1889 Feb 13 at 6:25
  • @uday1889 That doesn't help really, it only shows that it was already fairly widely in use by the time of attestation and, according to the occasional use of scarequotes, not considered proper. We know that slang or "whatchamacallit" is unreliablle as far as quotations go. Hence my question. It also doesn't substantiate the "make it do" angle, not really. – vectory Feb 13 at 23:43
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    For those of us who speak a version of English without yod-dropping, "make due" would sound completely different from the established expression "make do", and any possibility of confusion is very remote."Make due" doesn't exist even as an error. – Colin Fine Mar 13 at 11:05

Otto Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles, part 5 (1940/1954) identifies "make do" as falling into a category he calls "Incomplete Infinitival Nexus-Objects." Here is his discussion of this construction in modern English:

In ModE the construction infinitive without S[ubject] is found chiefly in the common phrase make believe, which can take a content-clause or an infinitive with to, in modern American also an infinitive without to as the object of believe: [examples and subsequent cross reference omitted].

Rarer as in Williamson S 19 Di laughed too, but only to make seem as if she didn't care.

Thus also in the now frequent phrase make do (do in the same sense as in "That'll do"). As this is not found in NED, and in the Supplement only with one quotation (from a NP 1927), I print several literary quotations:

[William John] Locke [The Great Pandolfo (1925)] 143 if you can make do with hash and rice pudding, I'll be grateful | [John] Galsw[orthy, Flowering Wilderness (1932)] 630 always having to look forward to see if you can make do | [Somerset] Maugham [The Bread-Winner (1931)] 4.241 We shall have to make do with the family bus for a bit longer | [Dorothy] Sayers [Gaudy Night (1935)] 478 If I can't have the real thing, I can make do with the imitation.

Other cases with make are rare:

Lyly C 321 It is better to hate the things which make to loue the things which giue occasion of hate | Tennyson 417 Yet to be loved makes not to love again.

In Benson N 280 it'll make talk we may have the substantive and not the verb talk.

Thus, according to Jespersen, "make do" is a short form of "make to do," just as "make believe" is a short form of "make to believe." Jespersen doesn't mention "make due" because (1) "make due" isn't a short form of "make to due" and (2) given that he was writing in the late 1930s, he probably never saw an instance of "make due" in print where due wasn't functioning as an adjective in a longer phrase.

Although the earliest instance of "make do" that Jespersen cites is from 1925, in a novel by William John Locke, earlier instances are not hard to find. In fact, Locke himself uses it in another, slightly earlier novel, The Tale of Triona (1922):

To emotional girlhood the feel of money, money not to hoard and make-do for weeks and weeks with the spectre of want ever in attendance, but money to fling recklessly about, has its barbaric thrill.

The earliest Google Books match for "make do" that I found is from W. Percival, Do Without It: A Christmas Story (1864):

'Hist, child!' she went on, after seeming to doze for a little while—'it's little more than I have left you that you will want to make do—with Martha to help, who is a tidy, careful body—that is, if you manage right.

From Joseph Jacobs, "Lazy Jack," in English Fairy Tales (1898):

His mother was this time quite out of patience with him, for the next day was Sunday, and she was obliged to make do with cabbage for her dinner.

And from various articles in The Commercial Motor (1915):

Our leading Editorial deals with the new situation which has arisen owing to the use which the War Office is to make of steam wagons. Few alternatives are being left to the user of the heavier classes of vehicles than temporarily to make do with those of smaller capacity.


...of those owners who have taken our advice to have recourse to two-ton, 30-cwt., one-ton, and even smaller models, but we do not seek to ignore the unhappy case of those would-be owners who have lost their heavier vehicles and cannot make do with smaller ones.


There is a feeling, no doubt, with thousands of our countrymen enduring unspeakable hardships in the trenches, that we should all endeavour to continue to make do with such opportunities and means as come our way.

We might recount, were this the place to do it, many incidents which go far to show that our soldiers have had to make do with the wrong thing—with, for example, puttees which shrank under water to the point of stopping the circulation in the men's lower limbs, thus intensifying the agonies of frost-bite and gangrene.

In contrast, the earliest twentieth-century match for "make due with" that multiple Google Books searches turned up is from Michael Harper, "Seed," in Nightmare Begins Responsibility (1975):

When you said the universe / was a seed, / silence, / nothing at all, / that spirit-man / conjured it up / to make due with his life, / I only nodded, / and you said you were finished.

From Jewish Frontier, volumes 46–47 (1979[?]):

The small private hospital, operating with a skeleton staff, on that day lacked even a resident doctor, and had to make due with a few overworked, harried nurses and fewer interns who were unsure of themselves and unwilling to get involved in a case where the placenta had arrived and the infant had not.

From Bonnie Parkhouse & Jackie Lapin, The Woman in Athletic Administration: Innovative Management Techniques for Universities, Colleges, Junior Colleges, High Schools, and State High School Associations (1980):

On the other end of the spectrum are the women who rue the day GAA, cookies, and punch vanished, want no scholarships and recruiting, are content to make due with a meager budget, and try to provide sports for all candidates.


  • Women should compete separately from men and make due with what they have instead of demanding more

And from "Varieties of Shows Offers Alternative to Kool Fest," in Billboard (July 18, 1981):

There was no extra financial support for the Soundscape Festival. Says Gillis, "We had to make due with our smaller contributions from such firms as Con Edison and Citibank."

It is indisputable that "make due" has occurred with some regularity in published writing for a long time. But at least in Google Books results, the overwhelming majority of those instances are part of longer word strings in which due functions as an adjective: "make due redress," "make due probate," "make due provision," "make due return," "make due entries," "make due inquiry," "make due allowance," "make due diligence," etc., etc. Only with the advent of "make due with" in Michael Harper's 1975 poem does "make due" armed with a seemingly nonadjectival due begin to appear in modern results.

The one clear exception to this tendency is remarkable for both its earliness and its solitude. From a letter to Henry Clay from Felix Grundy, dated January 13, 1827, reproduced in The Papers of Henry Clay: Secretary of State 1827 (1959):

Altho, this matter had given me so much concern, that to prevent all controversy, I actually offered a few days ago, to give my note payable in twelve months—for any sum, which Mr Erwin yr son in law should make due by a calculation, without then knowing or claiming any credit for the $2400, receivd by me in the fall 1817,— I never for a moment beleived, or suspected that you would do me an act of injustice—or claim one Cent more than you beleivd to be Justly due—and altho I have always used this language when I spoke of it.

Here "make due" seems to mean something like "establish as being owed and requiring payment by a certain date." It is an interesting usage, but not one that I have found anywhere else in Google Books search results.

Most style guides haven't addressed the issue of using "make due" in place of "make do"—perhaps because the usage is relatively recent and still rather marginal. But Margery Fee & ‎Janice McAlpine, Guide to Canadian English Usage, second edition (Oxford University Press, 2007) [combined snippets] has this entry:

make do, [make due] Make do means to manage in straitened circumstances (to make less do the job). It is probably mere inattention that causes writers to substitute make due for make do.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will have to make due without Owen Nolan for the next two weeks. CBC Sports Online 5 Jan. 2004.

(Here make due should be make do.)

  • I don't see the examples and don't know a sense in which make believe had believe as a word. German has analogously glauben machen, jemandem glauben machen, which I would judge as a noun (as opposed to jemanden glauben machen). It might have started as a noun, later reinterpreted. Which is the whole point. Given the theme of believe, it could have a source in church Latin I suppose. Looking for quotes I perused Gifford's 1593 Witches and Witchcraft, which makes plenty use of make constructions. make shew (make sure?), make affraid, make re∣semblance of, make serue his return. – vectory Feb 13 at 23:49
  • Make believe is different again, in that it has been univerbed for many people: while some will say you’re making believe, I think more people will now say you’re make-believing. That does not – that I’m aware of, at least – happen with make do. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 15 at 0:16
  • I'll accept this answer for showing a quote of a bare make due that predates its variant by a few decades. Also because it shows that the argument is basically an authoritative one that is not based on sound reasoning, to which I've posted a follow up question english.stackexchange.com/questions/489774/… – vectory Mar 17 at 7:02

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