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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Aug 17th, 2008, 01:12 pm
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Default How do you teach the difference between "make" and "do"?

Make vs. Do

What do you do? What do you make?

These simple words cause lots of confusion for English language learners. I’ve spent time helping a very wide range of ESL classes – from advanced adult education and community college students to intermediate English students in summer courses and regular university courses – struggle with idioms with “make” and “do.”

Here is a quick, imprecise guide that helps clarify the issue.

Look at some common expressions with “do”.
• Do the dishes.
• Do some chores.
• Do your work.
• Do exercises.
• Do your best.
• Do it over.
• Do the report.

Do is used to describe an activity that you have to do, often over and over again. For instance, we “do the dishes” and “do the laundry” many times. Do also contains an element of duty and responsibility.

Now, take a look at some expressions with “make”.
• Please make time.
• You make dinner.
• You make drawings.
• You make decisions.
• You make plans.
• Your make reservations.
• You make money.
• You make friends.

Make is used to describe a creative activity or something you choose to do. You choose, for instance, to make plans, make friends, and make decisions. You have choices.

Why do we say “make dinner” if we have to do it over and over? Perhaps because cooking is seen more as a creative activity than a chore. But cleaning the table, and cleaning the dishes are just chores so we say “do the table” and “do the dishes.” That’s also why Americans say “make money” instead of “do money.” Making money is seen as both creative and a choice. Idioms are cultural. Sometimes Americans will use the verb “make” in a way that might seem strange, but “make a decision” to “do your best” and learn practical workplace expressions.

Finally, I encourage students to work together in small groups and create their own list of idioms with make and do. When I’m lucky and have time, I like to ask students to come to the white board and write their collection of idioms on the board. Homework, of course, is asking them to choose 5-10 idioms and write complete sentences.

So how do you teach the difference between do and make to your English students?


"Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity."
Aristotle, 4th Century BCE, Greek philosopher
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Unread Mar 30th, 2010, 01:05 pm
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Default Re: How do you teach the difference between "make" and "do"?

This is a wonderful resource. Thank you! Just what I needed for my next class..
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Unread Mar 31st, 2010, 05:23 am
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Default Re: How do you teach the difference between "make" and "do"?

It might be simpler to say "do" is the act of participation in the activity, where "make" is the production of a thing.

• Please make time. - -> create time
• You make dinner. - -> create diner
• You make drawings. - -> create drawing
• You make plans. - -> create plans

** Not all well formed **
• do time. - -> spend time (in jail)
• You do dinner. - -> have dinner
• You do drawings. - -> draw
• You do plans. - -> carry out plans

• Do the dishes. --> wash the dishes
• Do exercises. --> carry out the exercises
• Do it over. --> repeat the action
• Do the report. -->start and finish the report

• Make the dishes. --> create some dishes
• Make exercises. --> create exercises (for students' homework)
• Make it over. --> create it again
• Make the report. --> create the report
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Unread Mar 31st, 2010, 09:31 pm
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Default Re: How do you teach the difference between "make" and "do"?

As Mark said, MAKE is all about creation. MAKE a cake for example.

I also like to point out that DO often replaces other verbs.

Do the dishes (wash)
Do the laundry (clean)
Do my homework (write)

As for teaching this, I like to write sentences with DO and have the students replace it with other verbs.

PS: Here's a do/make test if anyone wants.

Learn English Online - Vocabulary - Do vs. Make Test
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Unread May 4th, 2010, 05:17 am
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Default Re: How do you teach the difference between "make" and "do"?

Hey its really very nice idea. I have never thought about it. I never notice this things. But still I am not able to find the difference between "make" and "do". As I think both are same in general. I didn't found any difference among them.
r4 dsi
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Unread May 6th, 2010, 10:59 am
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Default Re: How do you teach the difference between "make" and "do"?

As an activity to practice the difference between when to use "make" and when to use "do" write out a paragraph or two in which you use both words frequently. Erase each example of "make" or "do" in the passage and leave a blank space. Print it out and pass it out to students. Tell them to use the rules that are listed in the previous post and figure out whether "make" or "do" should be inserted in each blank. Have the students work in groups. I love this activity since the students see the words in context.
Andrew Lawton
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Unread Aug 17th, 2013, 06:47 pm
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Default Re: How do you teach the difference between "make" and "do"?

Old post I know, but I have to share something I published on my blog on teaching make and do: Make vs Do: 5 Ways to Show Your Students the Difference
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