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The Difference between Make and Do

Updated: Jan 28

If you have been studying English for a while, you will have noticed that memorizing individual words alone is not enough to become an eloquent speaker with a rich vocabulary. You will need to hear a word or phrase several times and in different contexts before you really understand it. For that reason, you should expose yourself to a diverse range of contexts – formal, informal, scientific, academic, conversational, etc. – to understand exactly how words are used and which words go together.

For example, we often talk about strong wind and heavy rain, but it would sound very odd to say heavy wind or strong rain, wouldn’t it? These word combinations are called collocations, and I would encourage you to start expanding your knowledge of them. They crop up in everyday conversation as well as formal or informal writing. When you use them correctly, your English sounds both natural and sophisticated.

Collocations with the verbs make and do

Today we are going to talk about collocations with the common verbs make and do. First, we will look at the general difference between these verbs, and then discuss some of the contexts in which they are most often used. Finally, and most importantly, I will give you some tips and resources on how to further practice these and other collocations.

Test you knowledge of more collocations with this quiz:

What’s the general difference between the verbs make and do?

The difference between the verbs make and do may seem quite random when used in collocations. However, there is in fact a rule you can learn to help you memorize the basic difference.

Let’s start with the verb make: when we use the verb make, we are talking about something we create or produce. Something that we make has a physical product or an actual object to show as the end result. For example, when we make coffee, there is a physical cup of coffee as the result. The same is true when we make dinner or make a sandwich.

Then what about do?

When we use the verb do, on the other hand, we put emphasis on the activity more than the result of the activity. That is why we do work and do exercise.

Although this is the basic rule for when to use make and do, there are many examples when it is not so obvious whether we are talking about the action itself or the result of an action. In this way, we can think of expressions with make and do as pure collocations and therefore have to pick them up through reading and hearing these collocations in context.

What are some common collocations with the verb make?

There are several English topics where you can often find collocations with make, and I would like to take you through them. Think of these topics as categories and consider the related “make” phrases in order to get a feel for context and meaning. Is there a creation or final product that we see after the activity? If no, it is an exception and I will advise you on how to practice them at the end of this post.

The categories below are rich in “make” collocations, and you can check if they are familiar to you:


  • Make breakfast/lunch/dinner

  • Make a salad

  • Make a cup of tea

  • Make a reservation

  • Make dessert

  • Make some coffee

  • Make rice

  • Make a meal

  • Make an appetizer


  • Make money

  • Make $100

  • Make a profit

  • Make a fortune

  • Make a living

  • Make interest

  • Make a loss

  • Make a sale

  • Make a bet

3. Communication

(Here we can see a lot of exceptions where there is no physical creation)

  • Make friends

  • Make fun of someone

  • Make up (= resolve a problem in a relationship)

  • Make a joke

  • Make a point

  • Make a complaint

  • Make a confession

  • Make a speech

  • Make a suggestion

  • Make a prediction

  • Make a promise

  • Make a fuss

  • Make an observation

  • Make a comment

  • Make an impression

  • Make a presentation

  • Make a statement

  • Make an enquiry

  • Make an agreement

  • Make peace

  • Make a fool of yourself


(Here we can also see a lot of exceptions where there is no physical creation)

  • Make plans

  • Make a decision/choice

  • Make a mistake

  • Make an excuse

  • Make progress

  • Make an attempt / effort (= try)

  • Make up your mind (= decide)

  • Make a discovery

  • Make a list

  • Make sure (= confirm)

  • Make a difference

  • Make an exception

  • Make a phone call

  • Make a date

Common collocations with do

Remember, collocations with make usually have a physical object as a result of the action, whereas do collocations focus more on the activity itself. Let’s go through the most common collocations with the verb do. Again, I have grouped the collocations into categories:


  • Do the housework

  • Do the laundry

  • Do the dishes

  • Do the shopping

  • Do the ironing

  • Do the shopping

  • Do the vacuuming

  • Do the dusting


  • Do work

  • Do paperwork

  • Do chores

  • Do business

  • Do a good/bad/terrible/great job!

  • Do the accounts

  • Do the reporting

  • Do the assignment

  • Do the inventory

  • Do payroll

3. Health and Beauty

  • Do exercise

  • Do your hair (= style your hair)

  • Do your make up

  • Do your nails (= paint your nails)

  • Do a diet

  • Do a cleanse

  • Do a detox

  • Do a retreat


  • Do anything / something / everything / nothing

  • Do well

  • Do good

  • Do the right thing

  • Do your best

  • Do better

  • Do the minimum

  • Do badly

How best to learn and practice make and do in context

Memorizing lists of vocabulary is rarely productive. It is much more effective to learn any phrases or vocabulary IN CONTEXT. This means you should become familiar not only with the phrase, but also with how it is used in a sentence or in conversation.

Fortunately, there are tricks and tools to help you do this!

Here is my advice:

When you come across a new phrase in a sentence, write down or record the entire sentence. Keep a journal of these new sentences containing the phrases and review them from time to time. For best results, try creating your own sentences and ask a native speaker if you are using the phrases or collocations naturally and in the right context. If this sounds too arduous, just make an effort to use any new phrases whenever possible during your everyday conversation.

Before you go…

( If you enjoy using Quizlet to practice new phrases, you can create your own sets there and practice on your own. )

When learning a language, you want your vocabulary to be active. It is vital to start communicating with newly learned vocabulary as soon as possible, and turning your passive knowledge into fluent speech!

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