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Make Do or Make Due: Grammatically Correct Use of this Phrase

Both idioms and homophones are common occurrences in the English language. As “make do” is an idiom, and “do” and “due” are homophones, mixing up the two terms is not unheard of.

Additionally, with the ever-changing nature of any language, English being no exception, more antiquated phrases occasionally spark debate on whether they are still valid. 

“Make do” is the modern and correct version of this idiom, which means getting by with the resources available. “Make due” is no longer considered acceptable. It is an older version of the same phrase, but it uses the adjective “due,” meaning suitable or sufficient instead of the verb “do,” which means to serve a specific purpose. 

There are numerous ways to use the phrase “make do” correctly and a few instances in which “make due” may still be seen in use today.

This article will take a look at the origin and meaning of the idiomatic phrase “make do,” how to use it correctly as well as the difference in meaning when we change “make do” into an adjective by inserting a hyphen as in “make-do.” 

Forms of “Make Do”

There are various forms of the phrase “make do.”

It can exist either as an idiomatic phrase, which means that it is used in a specific context with a particular meaning, or it can occur as a hyphenated adjective, which makes it one word with a very different meaning to the idiomatic phrase. 

Make Do as a Phrase

If you use the words “make do” as intended as an idiomatic phrase, this means that you are attributing a specific meaning to it.

An idiom in the English language is used in very specific situations and circumstances and is easy to apply, given the correct context. 

The phrase “make do” in its entirety makes up the idiom, which is why it cannot be split by a word or several words as in “I’ll have to make them do it,” as it then has an entirely different meaning.

The idiomatic phrase “make do” means to manage with whatever you have available at the time. If you don’t have something you thought you would have, so you’re doing the best with what is available. 

It means that you are doing the best with what you have even if it is not to your liking or even if the items you have available are not what you were expecting or worse quality than you would have liked (source). 

Examples:

  • We don’t have wrapping paper for the presents, so we will make do with newspapers.
  • Our GPS lost its signal, so we’ll have to make do with an old-fashioned map.
  • My mom doesn’t have biscuits for tea, so we’ll have to make do with bread and butter.
  • I didn’t get chopsticks with my Chinese takeout, so I’ll have to make do with a fork.

“Make Do” as an Adjective

You can alter the form of “make do” by inserting a hyphen between the words and, in so doing, make it a one-word adjective — make-do. 

As an adjective, “make-do” has a different meaning to the idiomatic phrase and cannot be used in the same context as illustrated above.

As an adjective, make-do indicates that something is short-term and momentary. It has a very similar meaning to the word “makeshift.”

Examples:

  • Make-do tents are used when one goes camping.
  • The school is utilizing make-do structures for the interschool championship. 
  • I have to wear a make-do robe for the surgery. 

Conjugating the “Make Do” Phrase

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In the English language, the difficulty usually sets in when one has to conjugate words to suit points of view and various tenses. Conjugating means changing the verb’s form to fit with whichever tense and perspective you are using in the sentence.

Fortunately for second-language learners, the phrase “make do” as an idiom is fairly easily conjugated to suit different tenses and perspectives.

This will depend on the sentence’s subject as you’ll usually only have to worry about conjugating the “make” part of the phrase.

Conjugating for Tense

If you are conjugating for tense, the “make” in “make do” for each of the various different tenses will follow the same rules as for the word “make” alone. 

This means that if you would change the word “make” as a verb by itself to suit a specific tense, you will do the same when it is “make do,” without altering the “do” part of the phrase. 

The word “make” is the infinitive, which means that it is in its most basic form. In order to illustrate the present tense here, we’ll use the present participle. 

The present participle is the continuous form of the verb, which means it will end in -ing, and it indicates that something is happening at that moment.

Let’s compare “I make tea” versus “I am making tea.” In this example, you can see the infinitive and the present participle used. 

Past TensePresent TenseFuture Tense
MakeMadeMakingWill Make
Make DoI didn’t have a pen, so I made do with a pencil.I don’t have chopsticks, so I am making do with a fork and knife.There won’t be any electricity from eight to ten, so we will make do with candles.

Now, the three tense structures above are only three of the most basic tenses in the English language.

There are many more, but if you are studying English as a second language and attempting to understand the phrase’s basic conjugation in the most likely scenarios you’ll encounter, then these will be sufficient. 

However, for the more ambitious student or those who would like to expand their knowledge, it could be useful to study the various tenses in the English language.

This might come in handy when you are trying to describe very specific situations about circumstances and people. 

There are a few tenses where the phrase “make do” can be used correctly and without too much complexity.

In each of these cases, the conjugation rule we learned about above will still be applicable, and you will simply conjugate the word “make” of the phrase “make do” to suit each tense structure (source).

MakeMake Do
Past ProgressiveWas MakingLast night, with nothing good on TV, I was making do with a good book.
Past PerfectHad MadeThere was no butter, so I had made do with margarine.
Past Perfect ProgressiveHad Been MakingThey ran out of cream and had been making do with milk while waiting for new stock.
Present ProgressiveMakingI don’t have cardboard, so I am making do with paper.
Present PerfectHas MadeHe’ll be fine; he has made do with the bare minimum before.
Present Perfect ProgressiveHas Been MakingHe isn’t worried as he has been making do with 20% less income for a while now.
Future ProgressiveWill Be MakingThey won’t have cell phones, so they will be making do with two-way radios.
Future PerfectWill Have MadeThe kids will have interesting stories to tell as the camp has basic facilities, and they will have made do with rudimentary equipment.
Future Perfect ProgressiveWill Have Been MakingHe has such moxy that he will have been making do with whatever is available by day ten on a deserted island.

Some of these would be quite a mouthful, and there are far simpler ways to say the same thing. It is quite understandable that knowing which tense to use and which tense is correct, especially when it gets to “have,” has,” and “had” can get pretty complex. 

As you delve deeper into your English language studies, but if you have useful study aids such as Dreyer’s Style Guide handy, you’ll have no trouble learning all about the different tenses and how to use them correctly.

As a second-language learner, another important study aid is the Oxford New American Dictionary to ensure that you are using and pronouncing your words correctly. Both these helpful aids are available on Amazon. 

Conjugating for Perspective

When we talk about perspective in the English language, we are talking about the speaker’s point of view. Verbs are conjugated to suit the perspective of the speaker of the sentence and by this rule, “make do” will be conjugated as it is a verb.

If you are conjugating for perspective, the same rule we followed for conjugating for tense will also apply in the sense that you will only conjugate the word “make” in “make do” as you would conjugate “make” on its own for perspective. 

There are a few different perspectives in the English language, namely, first-person singular and plural, second-person singular and plural, and third-person singular and plural.

First-person indicates that the point of view used is that of the speaker or writer.

The first-person singular will use “I” as their pronoun, and the first-person plural will generally use “we,” although “me,” “my,” “mine,” “us,” “our,” and “ours” are also first-person pronouns. 

The second-person indicates the person that is being spoken to, and it is rarely used in fiction novels or films and, therefore, quite obscure. 

However, in a how-to book or in a letter or email, the second-person point of view will often be employed. The pronoun for second-person singular is “you,” but “your” and “yours” are also second-person pronouns. 

The third-person point of view indicates the person being discussed, and it is one of the most commonly used perspectives in novels and films.

The third-person singular pronouns include “he,” “she,” and “it,” but “his,” “her,” “hers,” “its,” “they,” “them,” and “theirs” are also third-person pronouns (source).

PerspectiveMakeMake Do
First-Person SingularAm MakingI don’t have chopsticks, so I am making do with a fork.
First-Person PluralAre MakingWe don’t have a duvet, so we are making do with a blanket.
Second-Person SingularAre MakingI see you don’t have pens, so you are making do with pencils.
Second-Person PluralAre MakingI see you two haven’t got your drinks yet, so you are making do with the water.
Third-Person SingularIs MakingHe doesn’t have a notebook yet, so he is making do with scrap paper.
Third-Person PluralAre MakingThey lost the last ping pong ball, so they are making do with a tennis ball until we replace it.

For the illustrated example above, you will notice that we used the present participle to show the differences in perspective. 

However, for each of the other tenses, it is wise to note that the word “make” will only conjugate as per the tense used as the verb before it will conjugate as per the perspective.

The verbs we are talking about here are the verbs “is,” “are,” and “am” as you can see demonstrated in the table above.

Meaning of Make Due

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There is another form of the phrase “make do” that we haven’t yet talked about, and that is when we spell it “make due.”

The phrase “make due” has the same meaning as the phrase “make do,” but the very important difference between the two is that “make due” is a historical version of the phrase and no longer in use. 

If we are going to get into the nitty-gritty of language itself, we can argue that “make do” is the better and more correct phrase to use because it makes more sense when you look at the words themselves. 

The word “due” stands alone as either a noun or an adjective, and when you compare it to the verb “do” in the phrase “make do,” it makes more sense to use the phrase “make do” as it refers to using something in specific circumstances (source). 

As we are physically managing or getting by with less or worse means than we would have liked to, when using the idiomatic phrase “make do,” it makes sense to use the phrase that incorporates the verb — a “doing” word, quite literally.

Final Thoughts

The words “make do” when written separately like this is an idiomatic phrase that means to get by or manage with less or worse means than you would have liked to. It means that you are doing the best with what you have available. 

The phrase “make due” has the same meaning, but is an antiquated version and no longer used in the English language as we know it today.

If you want to correctly use the term “make do,” you should use it in the proper context while remembering to conjugate only the word “make” as per tense and perspective.

Including but not Limited to: Meaning, Punctuation, and Usage

Thursday 24th of September 2020

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