A guide to using MAKE or DO

Updated: Apr 13

Today we are talking about collocations.

Collocations are natural combinations of words; for example, do and damage go together, the same way tall goes with man/woman and high with mountain.

These combinations sound natural to native speakers, but Spanish students have to make a special effort to learn them because they are often difficult for them. Such is the case of MAKE and DO.

You should already know that there are many different types of collocations. Here you have some examples:

Adjectives and nouns → bad temper, deep sleep, heavy smoker, etc.

Verbs and nouns → catch fire, save time, make room, etc.

Two nouns → sports car, return flight, speed limit, etc.

Verbs and expressions → burst into tears, run out of money, etc.

Adverbs and verbs → strongly support, highly recommend, etc.

Adverbs and adjectives → utterly ridiculous, deeply ashamed, etc.

But today we are focusing our energy on collocations with MAKE AND DO.

Is it make business or do business?

Make a phone call or do a phone call?

Make a noise or do a noise?

Make room or do room?

How can you be sure? Especially when both mean the same in Spanish? Unfortunately, there aren’t any hard and fast rules in English concerning the use of make and do. But, as the saying goes “practice makes perfect''. And we are here to help you practise! After you have read the rest of the post, you will find a quiz to put yourself to the test. But first, read some of the tips we have put together for you.

Cambridge Grammar Dictionary says the following:When we use DO and MAKE with noun phrases, DO focuses on the process of acting or performing something, MAKE emphasises more the product or outcome of an action”.

In other words, DO focuses on the ACTION and MAKE on the RESULT.

Yet, this does not clear it up completely, does it? Below we have some more guidelines.

Let’s start with DO:

1. We use it when we talk about an activity without saying exactly what it is.

Examples: Do something, do nothing...

2. When we talk about work/tasks/chores.

Examples: do work, do homework, do the ironing, do the washing…

3. To replace a verb when the meaning is clear.

Examples: do your hair, do the dishes…

4. Good or bad actions.

Examples: do well, do your best, do badly

What about MAKE?

1. Make often expresses the idea of creation or construction.

Examples: make a cake, make music…

2. Normally used when we talk about the origin of something or the materials used.

Examples: made of silver, made in China...

3. With plans, decisions, progress.

Examples: make a plan, make a decision, make arrangements

4. With food.

Examples: make breakfast, make a meal, make some coffee…

5. With communication.

Examples: make a speech, make a confession, make a comment

6. With money.

Examples: make a profit, make money, make a living

7. With relationships.

Examples: make friends, make love

As painful as they might feel, you need to learn collocations because they will help you speak and write English in a more natural and accurate way. People will probably understand what you mean if you talk (incorrectly) about “doing a cake” but your language will sound unnatural and will often confuse the person you are talking to.

Besides, collocations are particularly useful if you are taking an exam in English and you want your results to be good, as they tend to be tested.

Ok, then! A promise is a promise. Here's your quiz! Practise as many times as you want!

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