Teaching the difference between \\\"make\\\" and \\\"do
Nov 1, 2008 Grammar 2501 Views
How do you teach the difference between “make” and “do” in your English classrooms?
What do you do? What do you make? What’s the difference, anyway, between “make” and “do”?
These simple words cause lots of confusion for English language learners. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time teaching a very wide range of ESL classes this distinction. Many ESL students struggle with “make” and “do” – from advanced adult education and community college students to intermediate English students in summer courses and regular university courses. The large number of idioms further complicates the problem.
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 amends.
• 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, of course, are cultural and sometimes less than completely logical. Sometimes Americans will use the verb make in a way that might seem strange, but I urge immigrants and international students to “make a decision”, “do your best”, and learn some practical workplace idioms using make and do.
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.
One co-worker has students write questions with “do” and “make” and interview each other. Another prefers using a multiple choice quiz. One ESL teacher emailed me that they compare and contrast “Mike Make” and “Dudley Do Right” for students.
So how do you teach the difference between do and make to your English students? Do you have a favorite exercise to teach this point? Have you found an exceptional list of idioms with do and make? Consider me curious.