Do can be an auxiliary verb (Do you like coffee?) or a main verb (I did my homework yesterday.). As an auxiliary verb, it has no meaning. It is necessary only for the grammatical structure. As a main verb it has a meaning, but the meaning is rather general. It often expresses a general activity.
Make is not an auxiliary verb. It is always a main verb (I made a cake yesterday.). Its meaning is also rather general, but it often expresses the idea of construction or creation.
Do for general activity
When we talk about a general activity but do not say what it is, we can use do:
Do for work
- I want to do something.
- What are you doing this evening?
- What can we do?
- Do it now!
We usually use do to talk about work:
Note that we sometimes use do to replace another more exact verb (but only when the meaning is clear from the situation). This is very informal.
- What do you do? (= What is your job?)
- Who does your shopping?
- I don't want to do any work today.
- I hate doing the washing up.
- Have you done your homework?
- do the lawn (cut/mow? sow? the lawn)
- do my room (tidy? paint? my room)
- do the car (wash? paint? repair? the car)
Make for construction
Make often expresses the idea of construction or creation:
Remember that we usually use make for products or goods that are manufactured. That's why you see labels like "Made in Hong Kong" or "Made in the USA" on products that you buy.
- I'll make a cake for Anthony's birthday.
- This car was made in France.
- Did you make this table yourself?
In the next example, notice how we use make for creation (the cake) and then use do (for the general activity) even though we're really talking about the same thing:
- Do the shopping. (We don't really create anything. We just "do" an activity.)
- Make a cake. (We really create something.)
Expressions with Do and Make
- I must make Anthony's cake. I'll do it now.
Here are some expressions that you should learn. Notice that as main verbs we use make more often than do:
- do good
- do harm
- do well
- do badly
- do a favour
- do business
Hope this helps!
- make an attempt
- make a bed (usually this means "tidy the bedclothes" but it could mean "manufacture the furniture")
- make a change/changes
- make a complaint
- make a decision
- make a demand
- make an effort
- make an exception
- make an excuse
- make a loss
- make love
- make a mistake
- make money
- make a noise
- make an offer
- make peace
- make a phone call
- make a profit
- make a suggestion
- make war