What’s the difference between “do” and “make”?

What’s the difference between “do” and “make”?

by Andrea Byaruhanga

Updated November 10, 2022

What’s the difference between “do” and “make”? How do you know if you’re doing or making something? 

Just like mispronouncing a word or using the wrong verb tense, this is one of those things that can cause English learners a lot of stress.

Luckily, there are some rules to help you understand the major differences between “make” and “do”, which we’ll get into below.

But the truth is that not every rule is as straightforward as you might like (a common theme in English grammar, unfortunately). In those cases, the best thing you can do is to learn common collocations—sets of words that just “sound right” together. 

In this article, we’ll go through some of the “do” vs. “make” guidelines, common collocations and examples of how you can use them.

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When to use “make” 

In general, you use “make” to talk about the result of an action, not the action itself. Results are often things you can see or touch. Here are the most common categories:

  • Food and drinks – cookies, lunch
  • Construction and art projects – a bookshelf, a vase
  • Finances – money, a profit

You can also “make” things that aren’t visible. These are still considered results because they’re the outcomes of things you decide to do. Some examples of things you can make are:

  • Plans
  • Offers
  • Suggestions
  • Choices

Common collocations with “make”

Here are a few common collocations you can learn that only use “make”—never “do.”

Make breakfast/lunch/dinner

“I don’t feel like making dinner tonight. Let’s go to a restaurant instead!”

Make coffee/tea

“I’m not getting up until you promise me you’ll make some coffee.”

Make a decision

“My sister has been accepted to two amazing universities. Now she has to make a decision.”

Make a difference

“I don’t know exactly what I want to do for a career, but I do know I want to make a difference in the world.”

Make an effort

“Not everything in life comes easily. Sometimes you have to make an effort to get what you want.”

Make friends

“We used to move a lot when I was young. I found it very difficult to make friends at school.”

Make a mess

“My mom loves to cook, but she makes a huge mess whenever she does.”

Make a mistake

“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake—that’s the best way to learn.”

Make money

“To me, the most important thing in life is to make money.”

Make noise

“Our neighbors are so rude. They make noise at all hours of the night!” 

Make a (phone) call

“I’ll be right there. I just need to make a quick phone call.”

Make plans

“We haven’t seen each other for so long! Let’s make plans to see a movie or go for lunch.”

Make a promise

“You should never make a promise if you don’t intend to keep it.”

Make a suggestion

“We really appreciate your business. If there’s anything we can do to improve our website, please feel free to make a suggestion!”

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When to use “do”

Unlike “make,” you usually use “do” when you’re referring to the action rather than the result.

Think of things like:

  • Physical actions – exercise
  • Chores – the laundry, the dishes
  • Obligations – taxes, work
  • Vague or general things – something, anything, your best

Common collocations with “do”

Just like with “make,” there are certain collocations that only make sense with “do.” Learn these and you’ll be off to a good start.

Do anything

“If you’re not doing anything tomorrow, we should hang out.”

Do your best

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. The most important thing is that you do your best.”

Do business

“I love your company and I’m very excited to do business with you!”

Do the dishes

“I’ll cook dinner if you do the dishes afterward.”

Do exercise

“We’ve been sitting on the couch watching Netflix for three days straight. Let’s get outside and do some exercise.”

Do a favor

“Can you do me a favor and drive me to my doctor’s appointment tomorrow? I’d really appreciate it.”

Do homework

“My sister always does her homework on Friday afternoons so she has the rest of the weekend free.” 

Do something

“Do you feel like doing something adventurous today like going zip lining or rock climbing?”

Do the laundry

“I don’t have any clean underwear left. I guess it’s time to do the laundry.”

Do the shopping

“Didn’t you say you were going to do the shopping this morning? We don’t have any bread or veggies.”

Do work

“This is the fourth break I’ve seen you take today. Please get back to your desk and do your work.” 

To make or to do: That is the question

As you can see, knowing the difference between “do” and “make” isn’t always easy. But if you keep these rules in mind and review the common collocations we discussed, you’ll have no trouble making the right decision!

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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.  In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.

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