This is the third article in the series about using simple English verbs to express the most diverse variety of ideas and concepts.
Here’s the first one where I looked at how to use the simplest English verb “TO PUT”.
And here’s the second one where I discussed using another simple English verb “TO GET”.
This time around we’re going to look at another very simple English verb “TO MAKE” and I’m going to show you that you can use it to express so many different things – actions, concepts and ideas – that you’ll be literally blown away by it all!
Basically the idea is to realize that you don’t necessarily have to try and find specific English verbs for every conceivable action. On a lot of occasions you can use a combination of a simple verb such as TO MAKE with another word to describe the concept.
Here’s a typical example – MAKE SURE: “You have to MAKE SURE the alarm is switched on before leaving the premises.”
If you think about it, MAKE SURE is such a simple way of describing the concept of making sure that it just doesn’t get simpler than that!
The adjective SURE describes the concept of certainty, and you just have to add the verb TO MAKE to describe the concept of someone taking action which would result in a certain outcome.
If you have the kind of a mindset whereby you can’t resist your desire to translate from your native language while speaking in English, describing even such a simple concept as “making sure” may present difficulties to you – especially considering the equivalent verb in your language most likely doesn’t consist of two simple words.
In my native language – Latvian – the concept of “making sure” is described using a longer, more complex verb (“párliecináties”), so if I were to translate from Latvian when speaking in English, I would probably struggle for a while before finding the right way of describing it in English. My mind would be trying to find a matching entry in English, but as a result it would draw a blank simply because there isn’t one!
What you have to do for your mind to stop wandering aimlessly is the following:
- Stop translating from your native language and…
- Stop trying to find ways of describing the particular activity PRECISELY!
The English language allows us to combine the verb TO MAKE with pretty much ANY ABSTRACT NOUN thus enabling us to describe actions even when we don’t know the corresponding verbs.
TO MAKE + Noun = Verb
Let’s just pick any random abstract English noun, say, CONFESSION.
SIDENOTE: Why I said “any ABSTRACT” English noun? You see, as far as describing activities is concerned, you wouldn’t be really using English nouns that describe concrete objects. If you combine TO MAKE with A TABLE, for example, the resulting phrase TO MAKE A TABLE is to be taken literally and would be used to describe the process of someone actually making a table.
So, speaking of the noun CONFESSION – if we stick the verb TO MAKE in front of it, we get TO MAKE A CONFESSION which is a totally valid way of describing the act of confessing. Sure, there’s a simpler way of describing it – the verb TO CONFESS fulfills the purpose.
The point I’m trying to make here, however, is the following – in case you don’t know the precise English verb to describe a certain action, you can resort to using one of the simplest English verbs TO MAKE in combination with a NOUN which describes the activity in question, and chances are that you’re going to end up with a valid English expression.
Let’s pick another noun, let’s say – PROPOSAL.
If you stick the verb TO MAKE in front of it, the resulting phrase TO MAKE A PROPOSAL is a very valid way of describing the very act of someone putting forward a suggestion to some other person.
And once again – yes, there’s a verb which can also be used in situations when you have to describe the same concept, namely – TO PROPOSE. And I’m going to repeat myself once more – it’s all about situations when you just can’t think of the right verb! Furthermore, a phrase such as TO MAKE A PROPOSAL is a very, very valid English speech pattern and there’s nothing wrong with using it even when you’re very well aware of the actual verb TO PROPOSE.
And here are a few more English expressions that are combinations of the verb TO MAKE and an abstract noun:
Make a decision – obviously, there’s a verb TO DECIDE which can be used just as well, but there’s nothing stopping you from using the expression TO MAKE A DECISION!
Make a contribution – this is a very handy phrase used when describing contributions of financial nature, for example: “Thank you so much Mr. Jones, I’d like to thank you on behalf of everyone for MAKING such a huge CONTRIBUTION to our school!” Of course, there is the verb TO CONTRIBUTE, but sometimes using the verb TO MAKE in combination with the noun CONTRIBUTION sounds better – especially when you want to put emphasis on the fact that someone has made the contribution.
Make a donation – this is quite self-explanatory, isn’t it? There’s the verb TO DONATE, and then there’s the phrase TO MAKE A DONATION that carries the very same meaning and can be used interchangeably!
Make an announcement – this is actually a very good English phrase and you can use it when you want to put emphasis on the fact that you’re making the announcement. Yes, you can use the related verb TO ANNOUNCE as well, but it might be actually easier for you to use the phrase instead of the verb.
Just compare the following two ways of saying the same thing:
- Dear colleagues, I wanted to make an announcement. The thing is, I’ve decided to leave this company.
- Dear colleagues, I wanted to announce the end of my employment at this company…
I think it’s easier to go with the first option because it allows you to put things in a simpler way!
Make a wish – this is how native English speakers refer to the act of someone wishing for something specific to happen, and most commonly it’s used when speaking with another person – “MAKE A WISH!” When it’s you describing yourself wishing something, you should go with the verb TO WISH instead – “I wish you were here…”; “I make a wish you were here” sounds very wrong, don’t you agree? So basically here’s the rule to follow – if you’re telling someone else to wish for something, say “Make a wish!” If it’s your own wishes and desires you’re talking about – say: “I wish…”
Make an impression – as you might have already guessed, this English expression can be used instead of the verb TO IMPRESS. And once again I have to confess that I actually prefer using the longer phrase TO MAKE AN IMPRESSION for the simple reason that it stresses the very fact of someone making an impression.
Make an offer – “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse!” – you might have heard this famous quote from the Godfather movies, and it’s a perfect example illustrating the principle I’m discussing in this section – you could use the verb “to offer” instead because it does carry the same meaning. Well, of course, you’d have to re-phrase the question: “I’ll offer him something he can’t refuse!” – but you get the drift, right?
Make a discovery – there’s a verb TO DISCOVER – but in case you can’t remember it at the right moment – you can always resort to sticking TO MAKE in front of the noun DISCOVERY. “How on Earth could I forget the verb if it sounds almost the exact same as the noun?” – you may ask. Well, guess what? It happens all the time to foreign English speakers!
Make a phone call – this phrase can be used instead of using the verb TO CALL. So, instead of saying “I’d like to call my mom, can I use your phone?” you can simply say “I have to make a phone call, can I use your phone?” There’s also another benefit to using the longer phrase instead of the verb – you don’t have to specify who you’re going to call whereas when using the verb you have to follow it up with a noun specifying who you’re going to call.
Make a purchase – simply means to buy something, TO PURCHASE.
Make an improvement – if you combine the verb TO MAKE with the noun IMPROVEMENT, you get the equivalent of the verb TO IMPROVE, and this is also a very valid English phrase used by native English speakers worldwide! “We’re planning to make some improvements to our home this year” – this is how you describe your plans of refurbishing your house. Another example – “I think you’ve made huge improvements to your spoken English fluency ever since we met a couple of months ago!”
This list could go on and on, but I have to stop right here simply because we have plenty more to look at – idioms and phrasal verbs containing the verb TO MAKE.
I mean – the above phrases are just word combinations or the so-called collocations you could in theory come up with yourself but idiomatic expressions such as TO MAKE A POINT is something you couldn’t possible create on your own – you just have to learn them!
Anyway, let me just tell you that the method of sticking TO MAKE in front of any abstract noun isn’t foolproof. Just like I told you previously, it’s a good method of describing the action in question in situations when you don’t know the exact verb, but there’s always a small chance you’ll get it wrong.
So, for example, the following word combination isn’t natural: TO MAKE A QUESTION.
Native English speakers just don’t speak like that; they say – TO ASK A QUESTION.
Well, guess what – first of all, stop asking “Why?” questions, and secondly – you have to understand that not everything in the English language (or any other language, for that matter!) follows a set of strict rules.
There’s always exceptions to the rule, and in case you’re wondering how you can tell when you’re allowed to stick the verb TO MAKE in front of an abstract noun and when you’re not, the simple answer is – treat each situation individually ❗
Whenever you’re in doubt whether you can use TO MAKE with a particular noun – don’t hold back but use it! If it sounds unnatural or if you have the “gut feeling” that it mightn’t be used the way you’re using it, just use Google to make sure!
But before we move onto idiomatic expressions containing the verb TO MAKE, let’s look at another category of English expressions containing the verb TO MAKE.
Sometimes TO MAKE + NOUN is the ONLY Way to Describe the Action!
You just found out that on many occasions TO MAKE + NOUN describes the same action as the VERB and on most occasions you can choose whichever option you prefer.
It’s not always the case though – sometimes the TO MAKE and NOUN combination is the only way you can describe certain actions!
Make a mistake – this is how you describe the process of making a mistake and this is pretty much the only way you can describe it. Well, there are verbs carrying the same meaning such as “to err” – but hey, you have to agree that people don’t speak like that!
Make an error – same thing. “To err” is the corresponding verb, but if you asked me when I’ve heard any English speaker use this word for the last time, my answer would be – never!
Make an appointment – this is how native English speakers refer to the action of making an appointment, and to the best of my knowledge it’s the only way you can describe it. There are no single-word verbs to use instead!
But now, it’s about time we looked into idiomatic expressions containing the simple English verb TO MAKE!
TO MAKE in Idiomatic Expressions
Make sense – I’m 99.9% sure you already knew this phrase containing the verb TO MAKE, didn’t you? This is a typical English idiomatic expression – and in case you’re wondering why it’s called IDIOMATIC, here’s a very simple explanation – you wouldn’t be able to come up with it yourself, you just have to learn that the concept of something being reasonable and sensible is described the following way “to make sense.”
So basically unlike phrases in the previous sections that you could think of yourself by trial and error, idiomatic expressions would be much, much harder to create from scratch!
And here’s a few longer phrases containing the same word combination:
- It doesn’t make any sense!
- It makes an awful lot of sense!
- It makes perfect sense.
- It makes sense to me now!
Make sense of – at first this phrase may look just like the previous one, but there’s a difference between the two. If something MAKES SENSE, it means that whatever you’re talking about is rational and logical or that you understand it.
If you’re MAKING SENSE OF something, it means you’re trying to FIGURE OUT something. So if you’re saying – “I can’t make sense of her actions…” – it means you can’t understand why she’s acting that way.
Make an exception – this is how the concept of ignoring rules and allowing something to happen is described. You can use this phrase whenever you’re asking someone for a favor: “Please, can you make an exception for me just this once?” Or, you can use this phrase when refusing someone’s request: “Sorry, but I really can’t make any exceptions!”
Make friends with – when you befriend someone, this is the proper English idiomatic expression to use: “She always finds it very easy to make friends with people at social gatherings!”
Make a difference – this idiomatic expression is most commonly used when describing certain activities that have changed other people’s lives. It’s typically used in the charity industry – “Every dollar you donate is going to make a huge difference!”
Make a fool out of yourself – this is a very handy phrase to be used in situations when a person does something embarrassing, for example: “John made a complete fool out of himself at the party last Saturday – he got drunk and started telling all sorts of stupid things to everyone!”
Make an impact – you can use this English expression containing the verb TO MAKE whenever you have to describe the concept of something having far-reaching consequences. Here’s an example: “Reading has made a big impact on my life – I wouldn’t know half the things I know now if not for all the books I’ve read!”
Make a point – this English idiomatic expression can be used when referring to someone having made themselves clear, having clearly explained what it exactly is that they want during an argument: “Mike, please calm down and stop raising your voice. You’ve already made your point that you’re not happy with the amount of hours you have to work every week, and I already told you I’ll deal with it!”
Make it clear – when you’re explaining something, this idiomatic expression can serve the purpose of emphasizing the fact that the matter has to be explained clearly and understandably. “I want to make it clear to everyone – no redundancies will be made this year. There will be, however, a slight reduction of hours.”
Make a transition – it simply means to enter a new stage of something; I’ll let the following example illustrate this phrase: “Many countries in the world are still trying to make a transition to democracy.”
Make ends meet – this is a typical English idiom, and it means to earn just enough money to pay the bills. “In today’s economic climate, many people work really hard just to make ends meet.”
Make no mistake – this is another way of saying “undoubtedly”, “without any doubt” and it’s especially used when warning others of possible consequences – “Make no mistake – I’m not going to tolerate such behavior during working hours!”
Make the best out of – this idiomatic phrase is really handy when describing a bad situation and pointing out that you can still do something to make it better: “Yes, I know it’s pretty bad to find yourself out of work, but you have to make the best out of this situation. Stay active, enroll in some courses, just do something!”
Make the headlines – when something gets media publicity and is mentioned in all newspapers, it’s said that that particular news item makes the headlines: “The latest terrorist attack made the headlines all over the world!”
Make use of something – to utilize something, to find a good way of using the object in question: “Listen, you’ve got a university degree, right? So – make use of it! Why don’t you try and find a job in your specialty?”
Make or break – something that will either turn out to be a success or will result in a total disaster – depending on circumstances. “The fitness camp Mike went to will either make or break him.” This expression is also used in context such as “make or break factor” – “Common, nothing bad is going to happen if we experiment with different color packaging, it’s not a make or break factor in our business!”
Make of it – when used in sentences such as “I don’t know what to make of it!” or “What do you make of it?” this English idiomatic expression means to interpret a situation, to understand the matter at hand. For example, you’re witnessing a confusing situation at work – managers are having an argument witch each other. Now, you don’t really understand how something like that could possibly happen and you’re not sure if there’s going to be any consequences. That’s when you can say – “I don’t know what to make of it!”
Phrasal Verbs with TO MAKE
And now let’s look at some phrasal verbs containing the verb TO MAKE. I’m sure you know what phrasal verbs are, but in case you need a small reminder – they’re verbs that consist of the MAIN verb and a PARTICLE. In this case, the main verb is TO MAKE, and the particle… well, it depends on the particular phrasal verb!
Make up – this phrasal verb typically describes the process of a couple getting back together after an argument: “Eventually I made up with my girlfriend because what’s the point in ignoring each other?”
Make out – here’s an example: “I can’t make out what you’re saying!” In this case the phrasal verb TO MAKE OUT means to “understand”. Another example – “I find it very difficult to make out my doctor’s writing, it’s as if he deliberately tries to make it more difficult for me to understand what he’s written.”
Make up for – this phrasal verb consists of TO MAKE and two particles, and it means “to compensate for something”. Here’s an example clearly illustrating this particular English phrasal verb: “Many people buy expensive gadgets for their kids just to make up for the lack of attention and love.”
And here’s another way of using Make up – “I think you’ve just made up all your stories because you’re an attention seeker!” In this case TO MAKE UP means to invent something that isn’t true – a story just to impress your friends, or an excuse for something you’ve done: “I think you just made up the whole story about being sick. I guess you just don’t want to be my friend anymore…”
Various Phrases Containing the Verb TO MAKE
Make someone happy – I don’t think I should explain this English phrase in the very detail because it’s really self-explanatory, isn’t it? Anyway, I’m still going to provide a couple of sample sentences: “What is it that makes you happy?”; “Just being alive and healthy is enough to make me happy!”
Make it happen – this phrase containing the verb TO MAKE is most commonly used when describing the effort that has to be invested in order to accomplish something: “Listen boys, I know it seems impossible to finish the project by the end of the month, but we just have to make it happen!”
Make it your habit – speaking of habits and routines, this phrase can be very well used when describing the very process of something becoming your habit: “You may have to force yourself to go to the gym for the first time, but it becomes much easier if you make it your habit.”
Make the simple connection between – when you look at two seemingly unrelated facts, you may realize that they’re somehow connected, and that’s when this phrase comes in handy: “Some people fail to make the simple connection between what they eat and how they look. The majority of those who want to get in shape focus on exercise, but actually it’s the eating part that will make the biggest impact on your physical appearance!”
Make matters worse, also – make things worse – to do something that results in the situation becoming worse than previously: “Listen, by putting 6 boxes in a layer you’re only making things worse – the pallet is becoming very unstable!”
Make it on time – this is how native English speakers refer to getting to your destination on time, and it’s used an awful lot in casual conversations. Also, the short version MAKE IT is used – “I’m throwing the party on Friday night instead of Saturday… I hope you can MAKE IT?” By the way – thanks Sergio for reminding me to put this phrase on the list!
Now, I hope you’re going to find this article useful ❗
Obviously, I couldn’t possibly include ALL English collocations including the verb TO MAKE – the article would be 50 pages long if I tried to do that! 😉
But that’s not the point of the whole exercise anyway – I just wanted to provide you with ENOUGH information so that you can start using the verb TO MAKE in your daily English conversations effectively.
Any comments, questions or suggestions – please publish them in the comments section below!
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!