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:

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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