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Make do vs. make due

The idiom meaning to manage to get along with the means available is make do, not make due. Make do is short for make [something] do well enough, where do carries the rare sense to serve a specified purpose. So this do is similar to the one used in sentences such as, “I could use a cup of coffee, but tea will do.”

While it’s tempting to call make due a misspelling and leave it at that, make due appears often enough (about once for every ten instances of make do in a current Google News search) to have gained some acceptance, and some people (including commenters on this post) find it at least as logical as make do. Perhaps due, which is mainly an adjective, could here bear the sense appropriate (as in, we have done due diligence), or perhaps it could mean sufficient (as in, we have due cause to be thankful). And because the phrase is an idiom, its logic can be loose.

Still, that we can almost justify the use of make due doesn’t change the fact that make do is the standard form in edited writing from throughout the English-speaking world. If you are writing for an audience that might view make due as a misspelling, it’s probably best to go with the safer, more conventional spelling.

Examples

The less conventional spelling is common. Here are a few examples found in recent news stories:

In addition to dealing with insults, threats and health woes, Scott was forced to make due with inferior equipment. [TriCities.com]

The crowd would have to make due with a lesser intoxicant. [New York Observer]

Others make due with less effective treatments. [USA Today]

But most carefully edited publications spell the phrase in the conventional way, as in these examples:


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Police forces around the country are scrambling to make do in these tough economic times. [Washington Post]

From £5,000 upwards, you can get one of these beasts and needn’t make do with a boring flat-bed. [Telegraph]

He said he’s also worried the Transportation Department would try to make do with less equipment. [CTV]

Last week, while the French slobbered over Kate’s breasts, a genteel British media made do with studying her womb. [New Zealand Herald]

Make-do

The phrase can also function as a phrasal adjective meaning makeshift, with a hyphen between make and do—for example:

She pins and tucks them in the back in a make-do tailoring effort. [The Wenatchee World Online]

We put together some strong cardboards and sacks and created a make-do kennel. [Hindustan Times]

The hyphenated phrase may also be a noun meaning something that serves as a makeshift substitute, but we are unable to find any examples to illustrate this sense.

Other resources

“Making due” at Language Log
“Due process” at Grammarphobia

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Comments

  1. I think part of the problem is the US pronunciation of “due” as a homonym for “do”. In British English, the difference is distinct (“dyoo” vs “do”).

    • Karsten says:

      US certainly pronounces it differently. It’s not as prominent as the Commonwealth’s “dzyoo”, but US pronunciation certainly goes to the lengths of “dew”.

  2. WrongNeverFeltSoRight says:

    While technically wrong, I can’t see myself using “make do” instead of “make due” and here’s why. One of the meanings of due is “adequate; satisfying or capable of satisfying a need; sufficient” That meaning of the word is exactly what the phrase make do/due is trying to get across. We don’t have what we want, so we’re going to make [it suffice] with this other thing. It’s also not far from the phrase “due diligence” …meaning one has been sufficiently diligent in some effort to satisfy a need.
    I appreciate the ‘make something do well enough’ explanation… It makes “make do” look a little less goofy to my eyes.

    • Gray Bowman says:

      I agree. “Make due” carries more meaning by its definition than the other. “Make do” leaves the question of “do what?”

      • whatever option we are settling for will ‘do’ the job we were attempting to do.

      • Robert Boyer says:

        I believe the confusion comes from English colloquialisms. In England you often hear the phrase; “I will do.” In American English a person would say; “I will do so,” or “I will do that.” Most Americans upon hearing someone say, I will do, would probably reply; I will do what? I believe that make do has a similar origin and Americans have spelled it in a manner that makes more sense to their own use of English.

        • I have lived in the US all my life and until recently have never seen the words ‘make due’ in print. Its use dumbfounded me and seemed to be merely an ignorant mistake made by the handful of Americans who pronounce ‘due’ and ‘do’ identically.

    • It took us a while, but we’ve now updated the post to accomodate this very sound argument.

    • Many things in language look “goofy”. If you repeat a word often enough it also will begin to sound “goofy”. The worst abuses of a reasonably functional language begin with an increase in ambiguity in the spoken ( to some extent in the written). The difference in sound of an American “can” v. “can’t” is small and can be easily misheard, thus possibly reversing the meaning intended. The British pronunciation of these, with it’s altered inflection of the vowel is very clear.

      “Make do” is slightly colloquial, but has been understood pretty unambiguously for a long time, particularly during and after the last world war.

      It cannot reasonably be confused with “make something do something”

      “Make due” however, even with a Daeniken-esque effort to give it other meanings, can only imply the act of temporaly requiring the repayment or return of something, or of the inception of a deadline for a similar act.

      The attempt to legitimise “make due” as a variant of “make do” is an attempt to obfuscate the truth – the fact that the user of the former does not know how to spell the latter.

      • Donne ☥ says:

        Although I do personally use “make do” and tend to think of “make due” as a misspelling, using hard and fast rules for grammar and ignoring the common usage of an allegedly incorrect term is to ignore the fluid nature of language itself.

        Regardless, the “truth” of someone not knowing how to spell a two-letter word is questionable at best. It’s either a conscious choice on the part of the writer or a subconscious adaptation of the way he/she’s seen it spelled before. I don’t see any fault in either of those reasons for using “due.”

      • The possessive pronoun should you use, the poor apostrophe do not abuse. Just saying.

        • Janet Sarver says:

          The use of the apostrophe in Donne’s statement (the word It’s) is correct. It’s is the contraction, meaning It is. The possessive for it is written its. It’s unusual in that way, as most possessives use the apostrophe. I’m not sure if you meant a correction, or just wanted to use your cute rhyme.

    • maybe but what if what one is being asked to “make due” with, simply isn’t “adequate; satisfying or capable of satisfying a need; sufficient”?

    • enderandrew says:

      I completely agree. I was shocked to see that “make do” is listed as correct. That simply doesn’t make sense to me.

      The argument of more common usage also doesn’t make sense. More and more people are using “donut” and “tonite” to the point that people are starting to accept them as acceptable spellings, but that doesn’t really make them correct.

  3. really good info. thanks

  4. Make due? Yuck. I’m sorry, but you really have to stretch the meaning of “due” for that to make sense.

  5. I think it is more a misunderstanding than a misspelling. (Presumably due to pronunciation as Michael said.) Whenever I see “make due” instead of “make do” I tend to think that the person has heard the phrase but not read it and not really thought about what they’re writing and whether it makes sense (a lot of common phrases turn out like this as people use the phrase they thought they heard and don’t think about what they’re actually saying.) So I tend to think of carelessness or a lack of literacy when I see “make due” because, even with your explanation, it really doesn’t make sense. (And changes the meaning of the phrase significantly.)

    @Grey you “make do” with what you have or possibly a cheaper substitute for what you want. eg. I didn’t have any castor sugar so I made do with ordinary sugar.

  6. I feel the need to point out that The do VS due difference in pronunciation is retained in some dialects of US English (probably marginalized ones)… and I for instance agree that “make due” sounds horrible to me because that would be pronounced differently than “make do” and what I’ve always heard and said is “make do” not “make due.”

  7. Don Carpenter says:

    Just because 10% of the people who use the phrase are wrong doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s MAKE DO. Period.

  8. I highly disagree. The phrase “to make due” is to pay a debt of some sort (something is owed — tit for tat). There is no other time in the language that someone is making “do” with something. “Do” is an active verb already; therefore, adding “making” ( to it does not make any sense — even in a non-fluency situation. Your example of “do well enough” could,indeed, be a usable situation, but I guarantee it is not usually the situation in which you tink this phrase is used (which is another semantic debate). The word “due” on its own requires some kind of context beyond a subject and helping verb. If I am “making due,” it means I am paying a debt. That could mean that I am going to a restaurant that I don’t actually want to, because it would please my fancy. I am paying the debt of my fancy’s happiness which is due for an entertaining evening. Your definition and derivation requires more sources for it to be the only correct and plausible explanation.

  9. It’s not “due” in the adjective form you describe.

    “Make” is used in the sense of “reach/attain,” which is extremely common:
    – “The ship will make port before the storm.”
    – “A few more promotions and he’ll make major.”
    – “I don’t have enough money to make bail.”

    “Due” is acting in its noun form similarly to “debt,” also common:
    – “He should be given his due.”
    – “We have a due to meet.”

    In these forms “to make a due” makes grammatical sense on its own, not just as some loose idiom, but literally. Doubled-up verbs like “make do” are a lot less coherent without rewording the whole sentence, and are given a pass primarily because of tradition.

    • The phrase is “make do”. What has “due” got to do with anything? The phrase has nothing to do with a due, or a debt.

      Yes, in American English “make due” does make sense (although that sense does not match the actual meaning of the idiom without vague reinterpretation), but that does not make it the correct phrase.
      “Make do” only seems incoherent if you are not used to the phrase. It makes no less sense than “make due”.

  10. Throughout the southern United States the word ‘due’ is pronounced ‘dyoo’ as in British English.

  11. In the southern US ‘due’ and ‘do’ are pronounced differently, with ‘do’ rhyming with ‘zoo” and ‘due’ rhyming with ‘few.’ You will never hear a southerner say ‘make dyoo.’ Also ‘due’ and ‘dew’ are pronounced identically.

  12. In “The Girls of Atomic City,” Page 134, “Americans making due everywhere.” First time I’ve seen this. Jim

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