Do vs Make

Do:Make

Do and make are two verbs that frequently confuse students.

We usually use the verb do when someone performs an action, activity, task or work. These activities do not usually produce something new:

  • I did the laundry today.
  • Do the dishes after dinner, please.
  • Have you done your homework yet?
  • Do your work!
  • She does her job well.

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We also use do for things in general:

  • What are you doing today?
  • He does nothing all day.
  • She does everything for her daughter.
  • Hurry up, I’ve got things to do.
  • I know you will do the right thing.

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Some expressions with do:

  • do a crossword
  • do a favor / favour
  • do a job
  • do a project
  • do a service
  • do an assignment
  • do anything
  • do badly
  • do business
  • do chores
  • do exercise
  • do good
  • do harm
  • do the laundry
  • do nothing
  • do research
  • do right (the right thing)
  • do something
  • do the gardening
  • do the housework
  • do the rest
  • do the shopping
  • do well
  • do work
  • do wrong (the wrong thing)
  • do your best
  • do your job
  • do your work

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We usually use the verb make for building and creating. These activities usually produce something new.

We use make with food, drink and meals:

  • I’m making a cake for his birthday.
  • He makes a cup of tea every morning.
  • Who is making dinner tonight?

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Make is also used to indicate the origin of a product or the materials that are used to make something:

  • His wedding ring is made of gold.
  • The house was made of wood.
  • Wine is made from grapes.
  • The watches were made in Switzerland.

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We also use make for producing an action or reaction:

  • Onions make your eyes water.
  • You make me happy.
  • Watching tv makes me sleepy.

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You use make after certain nouns about plans and decisions:

  • He made the arrangements last week.
  • She has made her choice.
  • Can you please make a decision?
  • I haven’t made the reservations yet.

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We use make with nouns about speaking and certain sounds:

  • Making comments about people isn’t very nice.
  • Don’t make a noise, you might wake the baby.
  • She made a speech at the wedding.
  • Can I make a suggestion?

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Some important expressions with make:

  • make a difference
  • make an effort
  • make an enquiry
  • make an excuse
  • make a fool of yourself
  • make a fortune
  • make fun of someone
  • make friends
  • make a fuss
  •  make love
  • make a mess
  • make a mistake
  • make money
  • make a move
  • make a painting
  • make a payment
  • make a phone call
  • make a point
  • make a profit
  • make a promise
  • make time
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Insure vs Ensure vs Assure

Insure and ensure are often interchangeable, but occasionally there is a small difference in meaning.  I have provided examples to ensure your understanding.

 

Insure, verb:  ɪnˈʃʊər, -ˈʃɜr

Insure can be done to a person, place, or thing, but often it is reserved for limiting financial liability, usually by obtaining an insurance policy. James wondered if the caterers were insured against loss.

You can remember that we take out insurance to protect our income if we become unemployed, disabled, or injured in an accident. Both insure and income begin with -in. –

  • To buy insurance for something (such as property or health): We insured our house against fire and flood.  He insured his boat.
  • To provide insurance for something (such as property or heath): This policy will insure your car against theft. I found a company that will insure my car for less than I’ve been paying.
  • To guarantee or protect against loss or harm: We hope that careful planning will insure success. Despite all of our planning, we can’t insure against bad weather.

Ensure, verb: ɛnˈʃʊər

Ensure is something you do to guarantee an event or condition. To ensure there’d be enough food, Sofia ordered twice as much as last year.

You can remember that guarantee has those two e’s on the end to help you remember that to ensure (with an e) is to guarantee something.

  • To secure, guarantee or promise: This ticket will ensure you a seat on the train. The government has ensured the safety of the refugees.
  • To make sure or certain: We are doing all we can to ensure the success of our business.
  • To make secure or safe:  Endangered animals are protected to ensure their survival.

Assure, verb: əˈʃʊər, əˈʃɜr

Assure is something you do to a person, a group of people, or an animal to remove doubt or anxiety. They assured us they’d come to the party early.

You can remember that assure can only be used with things that are alive (and both assure and alive start with a). Only things that are alive can feel doubt or anxiety, so only they can be assured.

  • To declare or state with confidence: I assure you that I will drive safely.  She assured us that everything would be all right.
  • To cause to know surely: He looked back to assure himself that no one was following him.
  • To promise or guarantee: He was assured a job in the spring. They assured us they would come.

Sources: Grammar Girl, Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster

Say vs. Tell

Say is used with direct speech and is never followed by a direct personal object.  In other words, we don’t say who is being spoken to.

✔ “Those cookies smell good” said Jessica.

✔ Jessica said, “Those cookies smell good”.

✘ “Those cookies smell good” Jessica said him.

✔ “I really do love computers!” Daniel said.

✔ Daniel said, “I really do love computers!”.

✘ “I really do love computers!” Daniel said me.

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Say is also used with indirect (reported) speech, with a “that” clause, although the conjunction “that” isn’t usually used.

✔ She said (that) she was going to the party.

✘ She said me (that) she was going to the party.

✔ They said (that) they were unhappy with the service.

✘ They said us (that) they were unhappy with the service.

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Tell is only used with indirect (reported) speech and is always followed by a direct personal object.  In other words, we say who is being spoken to.  (Exceptions: Tell a story, tell the truth, tell a lie, tell the future, tell the time)

✔ She told him (that) she loved him.

✘ She told (that) she loved him.

✘ She said him (that) she loved him.

✔ We told them  (that) we were driving to Seattle.

✘ We told (that) we were driving to Seattle.

✘ We said them (that) we were driving to Seattle.

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Tell is often used with an object + infinitive to express requests, instructions, orders, and advice.

  • I told him to get some milk from the store. (request)
  • He told me to turn left on Main Street. (directions)
  • She told him to leave. (order)
  • We told her not to worry. (advice)

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Say and tell cannot be used with indirect (reported) questions.  In this case, we must replace say or tell with ask.

✔ James asked me to go with him.

✘ James told me (that) “will you go with me?”.

Can vs. Be Able To

There is often some confusion about can and be able to, so let’s see if I can clear that up a bit for you.

Can and be able to are often interchangeable and you can usually use either one without a difference in meaning.  But not always.

Can is a  modal auxiliary verb that expresses general ability in the Present tense, or could for general ability in the Past tense.

Be able to is not a modal auxiliary verb, it’s just the verb “be” + the adverb “able” + the infinitive “to”. 

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Present Ability. We use both can and be able to, but can is much more common:

✔ James can speak three languages.

✔ James is able to speak three languages.

✔ Michelle can easily multitask.

✔ Michelle is able to easily multitask.

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Future Ability. We only use will be able to to talk about a future skill or ability that you don’t have yetbut you will have in the future. We never use can for an ability that you will only have in the future:

✔ When I finish training I will be able to run a 5 minute mile.

✘ When I finish training I can run a 5 minute mile.

✔ I will be able to see better when I get new glasses.

✘ I can see better when I get new glasses.

We use either can or be able to when we are talking about decisions and future arrangements:

✔ The doctor can see you next Monday.

✔ The doctor is able to see you next Monday.

✔ I’m busy now, but I can help you in an hour.

✔ I’m busy now, but I’ll be able to help you in an hour.

✔ Mom can drive you to school tomorrow.

✔ Mom is able to drive you to school tomorrow.

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Past Ability.  We use could or was/were able to to talk about an ability that existed for a long time in the past, but which isn’t true now:

✔ When I was young, I was able to eat like a pig and not get fat.

✔ When I was young, I could eat like a pig and not get fat.

✔ When I was a teenager, I could stay up all night without getting tired.

✔ When I was a teenager, I was able to stay up all night without getting tired.

We only use was/were able to with action verbs to talk about an ability related to a single event:

✔ We were able to go sailing yesterday because the weather was so nice.

✘ We could go sailing yesterday because the weather was so nice.

✔ I was able to file my taxes online this year.

✘ I could file my taxes online this year.

✔ Yesterday we were able to get tickets for the concert.

✘ Yesterday we could get tickets for the concert.

But we use either can or was/were able to with some stative verbs (see, hear, feel, taste) to talk about an ability related to a single event:

✔ Were you able to see the fireworks from your balcony last night?

✔ Could you see the fireworks from your balcony last night?

✔ I was able to taste the salt in her cooking.

✔ I could taste the salt in her cooking.

✔ Because I was sitting in the front row, I was able to hear the teacher clearly.

✔ Because I was sitting in the front row, I could hear the teacher clearly.

We use couldn’t or wasn’t/weren’t able to for negative statements for both single events and a long period of time:

✔ Yesterday he wasn’t able to finish his dinner.

✔ Yesterday he couldn’t finish his dinner.

✔ I wasn’t able to swim when I was younger.

✔ I couldn’t swim when I was younger.

✔ We weren’t able to get tickets for the concert.

✔ We couldn’t get tickets for the concert.

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Here is a visual chart to help you out:

Can/Could (affirmative) Cannot/Can’t/Couldn’t Be Able To (affirmative) Be Able To (negative)
Past Ability She could read when she was five. She couldn’t read when she was five. She was able to read when she was five. She wasn’t able to read when she was five.
Past Repeated Actions When they were young, they could run marathons. When they were young, they couldn’t run marathons. When they were young, they were able to run marathons. When they were young, they weren’t able to run marathons.
Past, Single Action, Stative Verb I could feel the wind in my hair. I couldn’t feel the wind in my hair. I was able to feel the wind in my hair. I wasn’t able to feel the wind in my hair.
Past, Single Action, Action Verb NOT POSSIBLE!! I couldn’t get tickets for the concert. I was able to get tickets for the concert. I wasn’t able to get tickets for the concert.
Present Ability They can speak Italian. They can’t speak Italian. They are able to speak Italian. They aren’t able to speak Italian.
Future Ability or Skill NOT POSSIBLE!! When we pass our driver’s exam, we will be able to drive a car.
Future Decisions and Arrangements The dentist can see you tomorrow morning. The dentist can’t see you tomorrow morning. The dentist will be able to see you tomorrow morning. The dentist won’t be able to see you tomorrow morning.