machen vs. tun | to make vs. to do

Screen Shot 2011 08 21 At 12 09 34

machen vs. tun | to make vs. to do

There are many word pairs in German that are quite confusing when one comes from English into German. I’ve already said in an earlier post that German is the language of making and driving. After having many people ask me about the difference between “tun” (to do) and “machen” (to make / to do), I thought I would dedicate this blog to clarifying the situation.

The distribution of machen and tun might seem arbitrary, and indeed like most linguistic things it is to a degree. Different regions use different expressions. Most regions in Germany and Switzerland use the expression “Das macht man nicht!” (One doesn’t do that! / Don’t do that!), however, in Austria and certain places in Germany it is not uncommon to hear “Das tut man nicht!”

Das ... man nicht!

Let’s look at the meanings of these two verbs:


1. to do

  • Was tustdo?
    • What are you doing?
  • Tu, was du nicht lassen kannst.
    • Well, if you must, you must.
  • Sie müssen etwas für sich tun.
    • You should treat yourself.

2. to put (colloquial)

  • Sie hat das Buch in ihre Tasche getan.
    • She put the book in her bag.

3. to function (colloquial)

  • Der Computer tutes wieder.
    • The computer is doing it again. (Not functioning correctly)

4. to happen

  • Hat sich in dieser Hinsicht schon etwas getan?
    • Has anything been done about this?

5. to be busy (zu tun haben)

  • Momentan habe ich viel zu tun.
    • I’m really busy at the moment.

6. to act (so tun)

  • Sie tut nur so.
    • She’s only pretending.
  • Tust du nur sodumm?
    • Are you just acting stupid?


1. in general ist also means “to do”

  • Was machstdu?
    • What are you doing?
  • Ich machemeine Hausaufgaben.
    • I’m doing my homework.

2. to put you into a certain state

  • Das machtmich wütend.
    • That makes me angry.

3. to produce (colloquial)

  • Wo wurde der Käse gemacht?
    • Where was the cheese made?

4. euphemistic for to go to the toilet

  • Der Hund hat auf den Teppich gemacht.
    • The dog pooped/peed on the carpet.

5. to have sex (colloquial)

  • Sie haben es letzte Nacht gemacht.
    • They did it last night.

6. to cause something

  • Du machstmir nur Arbeit.
    • You only make work for me.

7. to earn money

  • Mit seiner riskanten Spekulationen an der Börse hat mein Schwager ein Vermögen gemacht.
    • My brother-in-law made a fortune with his risky speculations on the stock market.

8. to develop in a positive way – to make something of oneself

  • Dein Sohn hat sich echt gemacht.
    • Your son has really made something of himself.

9. to play a role in theater

  • Jedes Jahr machtder Nachbar den Orpheus bei der Dorfbühne.
    • The neighbour plays Orpheus every year in the town theater.

10. to equal / amount to something

  • Das macht1050 Franken.
    • That’ll be 1050 francs.

11. to call out or make a sound (colloquial)

  • „Wuff“, macht der Hund.
    • The dog goes “woof”.

Here are a few expressions that you should learn by heart.

Phrases worth learning

* Note the underlined words can be exchanged for other words.
** Watch out! Many German speakers will say: “Das macht Sinn” and “Das macht keinen Sinn.” which they have translated directly from the English “That makes sense.” However the correct German translation is “Das ergibt (k)einen Sinn.

Don’t forget to systematically learn your verbs:

tun und machen


machen oder tun? Welches Verb passt? Konjugieren Sie wo nötig.

machen oder tun?

  1.  Ich _________________ heute Abend mit Franziska eine Pizza.
  2. _________________ das Fenster offen!
  3. Kannst du bitte den Kaffee in die Kanne _________________?
  4. Peter _________________ Joachim schlecht.
  5. _________________ euch gemütlich!
  6. Ihr sollt die Tür zu_________________.
  7. Hast du die Küche schon sauber_________________?
  8. Muss man Salz in die Suppe _________________?
  9. Lukas hat Chips in die Schüssel _________________.
  10. Liebe Schüler, bitte vergesst nicht eure Hausaufgaben zu _________________.


mache, mach(e), tun, tut, macht, machen, gemacht, tun, getan, machen
  1. Very helpful Christian. I tell you, there is no need for me to go back to German classes. I just gotta follow your blog posts more often. This is great stuff, keep it coming. I’m taking a hint from you as well. One of my upcoming posts will be a photography technique article. Stay tuned…

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