Difference between "do" and "make"
The difference between "do" and "make" can be difficult to express or reduce to a set of simplified rules as they are used in such a large variety of set phrases and multi-word verbs, in which case, of course, they may have more than one meaning, some of which may seem to break the simplified pattern shown below. Students will simply have to learn most of them by heart - which is arguably true of most of the stuff they get taught...
The basic difference
- We usually use do as a full verb (not an auxiliary verb) for just doing things: activities, work and hobbies, as well as non-specific actions: Have you done your homework?; He did something very strange; Have you done the shopping; She does a lot of sport;
- Make is often associated with the concept of preparing, producing, changing or creating things: I’ve just made a chocolate cake; That certainly makes a difference.
- do all right
- do (one's) homework
- do the housework
- do (one's) own thing
- do the right thing
- do the shopping
- make a decision
- make a difference
- make a mistake
- make a noise
- make a speech
- make friends
- make love
- make up (make it up/make something up)
In some cases, they can be used with a similar meaning: we can "do the bed"/"make the bed" or "do an omelette"/"make an omelette".
In other cases, both can be used - but with very different meanings: "do time" vs "make time" or "do up" vs "make up".
And then there's the all-time classic: We'll just have to make do with what we've got.
Some common set phrases
- do (someone) a favour; do sport; do exercise;
- make a journey; make an effort; make a mistake; make decisions;
- Notice the use in the following expressions:
- make = force, oblige: They made him do the test again;
- make do with: There isn’t much bread left and the shops are shut, so we’ll have to make do with what there is;
- make time: We’ll just have to make time until they arrive.
- do time: He's doing time for bank robbery.