The Difference Between Machen And Tun In German Posted by Constanze on Oct 27, 2021 in Grammar, Language
Guten Tag! Last week on the blog, I wrote about the phrase Ich habe zu tun (I’m busy) and briefly covered the verb tun – to do. A lot of you asked for a post on the difference between tun (to do) and the more widely known machen (to do/to make), so here it is!
The first thing to say is that these two verbs are quite similar, and it’s difficult to explain the difference between the two. So don’t be frustrated if you find them confusing – this is perfectly normal. I’ll do my best to explain. Let’s start with the verb conjugations themselves (in the present tense).
Machen – to do/to make
Ich mache – I do/make
Du machst – You do/make (informal)
Er/sie/es macht – He/she/it does/makes
Wir machen – We do/make
Ihr macht – You do/make (plural)
Sie machen – You do/make (formal)
sie machen – They do/make
Tun – to do
Ich tue – I do
Du tust – You do
Er/sie/es tut – He/she/it does
Wir tun – We do
Ihr tut – You do (plural)
Sie tun – You do (formal)
sie tun – They do
What’s the difference between machen and tun?
The best way I can explain it is that machen is usually used when talking about a process, or a specific activity. For example, you can say Ich mache meine Hausaufgaben (I’m doing my homework), but using tun to say the same thing (‘Ich tue meine Hausaufgaben’) would make no sense, because the homework is a process/activity. Here are a few more examples where machen is the correct verb, and tun would not make sense in its place:
Ich mache meinen Führerschein – I’m learning to drive
Er macht sich Sorgen – He is worried
Ich mache mir einen Kaffee – I am making myself a coffee
Ich mache gerade Pause – I’m currently on a break
So, what about tun? The verb tun is used more generally, and often involves feelings. Here are some example sentences using tun:
Das tut gut – That’s good/ that ‘does the world of good’
Das tut mir Leid – I’m so sorry
Das tut man nicht! – You can’t do that!
Das tut nichts – That doesn’t do anything
Mein Kopf tut weh – My head hurts/I have a headache
Ich habe zu tun – I am busy
Das hat mit mir nichts zu tun – That has nothing to do with me
Now, there are some phrases where tun and machen can be used interchangeably, such as the following. Notice how there isn’t anything specific about these phrases, though- they aren’t talking about a process or activity. They are very neutral:
Was tust du?
Was machst du?
– What are you doing?
Was tust du hier?
Was machst du hier?
– What are you doing here?
Was soll ich tun?
Was soll ich machen?
– What should I do?
Ich will heute nichts tun.
Ich will heute nichts machen.
– Today, I want to do nothing.
If you already have a good feel for the German language, sometimes it’s a case of listening out for what ‘sounds’ correct with these verbs and what doesn’t. Take the following sentences – which one sounds correct?
Ich will nichts mehr mit dir zu tun haben
Ich will nichts mehr mit dir zu machen haben
This sentence means ‘I want nothing more to do with you’ and the first sentence, using tun, is the correct one. The second one sounds like you’re saying ‘I want nothing more to make with you’. Notice how this sentence isn’t talking about a process or specific activity, but more about a feeling, so it makes sense to use tun.
Here are two more sentences:
Kannst du ein Foto von mir machen?
Kannst du ein Foto von mir tun?
This sentence means ‘Can you take a picture of me?’ and the first sentence, using machen, is the correct one, because taking a photo is a process/specific activity and falls under the category of something you ‘make’ (machen = to make, as well as to do). The second sentence above is difficult to translate, because it makes little sense!
I hope this has helped you to understand the difference between machen and tun a bit more! Granted, it is a little confusing, but the more you hear and read these two verbs used in context, the clearer it will become.
Bis bald (see you soon)
PS. If you like this post, you might also like this one: German grammar in use: The conjugation of the verb “machen”
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