what is the difference between machen end tun

What’s the difference between “machen” and “tun”?

Wondering about the difference between machen and tun? This post explains the difference between these two commonly mistaken German verbs and provides examples of common use for each verb.

Tun means “to do” in German. Machen can be translated as “to do” or “to make”. These verbs are often interchangeable and can be used synonymously. But there are some cases and fixed expressions where tun or machen is preferred or is the only correct option. 

Machen is more frequently used than tun and is translated into English as “to make” or “to do”. It’s the second meaning that often makes German learners wonder whether to use machen or tun in a sentence. We can divide sentences with “to do” into 3 categories:

  1. machen and tun are interchangeable and either can be used.
  2. machen is the only correct option.
  3. tun is the only correct option.

Let’s start with the last category because it’s the easiest one to remember. There are certain expressions with the verb tun that you just need to learn by heart.

tun(tat – hat getan) – to do

Präsens Präteritum Perfekt
ich tu(e) I do ich tat I did ich habe getan I have done
du tust you do du tat(e)st you did du hast getan you have done
er/sie/es tut he/she/it does er/sie/es tat he/she/it did er/sie/es hat getan he/she/it has done
wir tun we do wir taten we did wir haben getan we have done
ihr tut you do ihr tatet you did ihr habt getan you have done
sie/Sie tun they/you do sie/Sie taten they/you did sie/Sie haben getan they/you have done

 weh tun + Dativ – to hurt

This expression was mentioned in 20 German Dative verbs for beginners. Use this expression when you want to say that something hurts:

Mein Kopf tut mir weh. – My head hurts.

Wo tut es weh? – Where does it hurt?

Es tat nicht weh. – It didn’t hurt.

Hat es weh getan? –  Did it hurt?

Wie lange kann der Arm nach einer Impfung weh tun? – How long can the arm hurt after a vaccination?

Ich will dir nicht weh tun. – I do not want to hurt you.

leid tun + Dativ –  to be sorry (about something)

Es tut mir leid. – I’m so sorry.

(Es) Tut mir leid, das zu hören. – I’m sorry to hear that. (Es is often dropped in spoken language)

Tut mir leid, dass es so lange gedauert hat. – I’m sorry it took so long.

Er sagte mir, es tut ihm leid. – He told me he was sorry.

gut tun + Dativ – “to do good”, “to be good for something/someone”

Yoga tut mir gut. – Yoga is good for me.

Umgib dich mit Menschen, die dir gut tun. – Surround yourself with people who are good for you.

Schwimmen ist ein Ganzkörpertraining, das dem Körper gut tut. – Swimming is a full-body workout that is good for the body.

Er tut mir nicht gut, aber ich liebe ihn. – He’s not doing me any good/He is not good for me, but I love him.

mit jemandem/etwas (nicht’s) zu tun haben – to have something(nothing) to do with someone/something

Ich habe damit nichts zu tun. – I have nothing to do with it.

Das hat mit dir nichts zu tun. – It has nothing to do with you.

A few other common phrases with tun:

Was kann ich für Sie tun? – What can I do for you/How can I help you? 

Ich habe viel zu tun. – I have a lot to do = I’m busy.

Kannst du mir einen Gefallen tun? – Can you do me a favor?

Ich kann nichts dagegen tun. – I can’t do anything against it = I can’t help it.

Ich werde mein Bestes tun. – I will do my best.

In the second category, we have expressions with the verb machen.

machen(machte – hat gemacht) – to do, to make

Präsens Präteritum Perfekt
ich mache I do ich machte I did ich habe gemacht I have done
du machst you do du machtest you did du hast gemacht you have done
er/sie/es macht he/she/it does er/sie/es machte he/she/it did er/sie/es hat gemacht he/she/it has done
wir machen we do wir machten we did wir haben gemacht we have done
ihr macht you do ihr machtet you did ihr habt gemacht you have done
sie/Sie machen they/you do sie/Sie machten they/you did sie/Sie haben gemacht they/you have done

Here are a few common expressions with the verb machen in the meaning “to do”:

Überstunden machen – to do overtime

Sie arbeiten lange und machen viele unbezahlte Überstunden. – They work long hours and do a lot of unpaid overtime. 

Einkäufe machen – to do shopping/to do purchases

Heute machen wir die letzten Einkäufe für die Party. – Today we’re doing the last few purchases for the party.

Hausaufgaben machen – to do homework

Hast du deine Hausaufgaben schon gemacht? – Have you done your homework already?

Sport machen – to do sport, to exercise

Ich mache regelmäßig Sport und nehme trotzdem zu. – I exercise regularly and still gain weight.

There are a lot more expressions with the verb machen  – this topic deserves its own blog post. I will link it here as soon as it’s published.

A few more common expressions with machen:

Das macht nichts. – Never mind.

Mach’s gut! – Take care!

Was machst du von Beruf? Was machst du beruflich? – What do you do for a living?

Was machst du (gerade) so? – What have you been up to recently?

Gut gemacht! – Well done!

Wie viel macht das? – How much is it?

Das macht 10 Euro. – That’s 10 Euro.

And now have the last category where tun and machen are interchangeable. There are many cases where either of these verbs can be used. There might still be a slight difference in meaning if you choose one of them but this difference is hard to notice it as a non-native speaker. One of the verbs might just sound better in some sentences.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I like to keep things as simple as possible when it comes to German grammar and vocabulary. The simplest strategy that I give to my students is to remember the phrases where you can only use tun or machen. The rest of the time you can just use machen as it’s a more common verb. Pay attention to how native speakers use the verb tun and with time you will develop a feeling as to which verb fits better in different situations. 

Let’s look at some examples where machen and tun are interchangeable. 

Was willst du jetzt tun? Was willst du jetzt machen? – What do you want to do now?

Was machst du da? Was tust du da? – What are you doing (there)?

Ich habe den ganzen Tag nichts gemacht. Ich habe den ganzen Tag nichts getan. – I haven’t done anything all day.

Ich weiß, was du gestern getan hast. Ich weiß, was du gestern gemacht hast. – I know what you did yesterday

Er hat alles gemacht, was er konnte. Er hat alles getan, was er konnte. – He did everything he could.

Ich mache es fur dich. Ich tu(e) es für dich. – I’m doing it for you/I will do it for you.

Was soll ich jetzt machen? Was soll ich jetzt tun? – What should I do now? What do I do now?

Sie will das nicht machen. Sie will das nicht tun. – She doesn’t want to do it.

Mach das einfach! Tu es einfach! – Just do it!

Mach das nicht! Tu das nicht! – Don’t do it!

Was habt ihr wieder gemacht? Was habt ihr wieder getan? – What did you do again?

Das macht man nicht. Das tut man nicht. – You do not do that. 

Top 100 German Verbs For Beginners PDF (with sentence examples and past participle)

difference between tun and machen






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