The Many Meanings of Make

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What began as an effort to find out if make can be a linking verb has led me to discover the multitudinous uses of this humble verb.

The verb make has been around so long that its etymology is obscure. It may go back to an Indo-European word meaning “to knead,” as in making dough.

Its usual use is as a transitive verb, but it can also be used as an intransitive verb and a linking verb. Its first sense is ‘to produce, construct, assemble, frame, fashion.” It has numerous figurative meanings and occurs in many English idioms.

Sometime when you have about an hour to spend, look up make in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here are just a few uses:

make a fire: put together materials and set them alight
make a will (or other document): draw up, compose, draft
make a garden (park, road): prepare a site for a garden
make a scene: display unbridled emotion
make a wound (mark, hole, sound): cause or inflict
make a fool of one’s self: embarrass oneself
make fast: secure
make away with: steal or kill

made of: fashioned out of, as in This coat is made of leather.
made of: (of a person) possessed of certain qualities, as in Let’s see what you’re made of.
made in: manufactured, as in Made in Mexico
made of money: extremely wealthy

Some idioms differ according to context:

to make a difference:
1. make a distinction, discriminate, act or treat differently
2. change a situation

to make time:
1. to schedule one’s activities in order to enable something to be accomplished
2. to be successful in sexual advances

Make is a frequent word in proverbs:

Haste makes waste.
Light purse makes a heavy heart.
Might makes right.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Politics makes strange bedfellows.
Practice makes perfect.

So, did I ever find out if make can be a linking verb?

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, it can. Here are some examples given of make functioning as a linking verb:

She would have made an excellent teacher.
This room would make a nice office.
A hundred cents make one euro.
That makes the third time he’s failed his driving test.

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5 thoughts on “The Many Meanings of Make”

  1. I disagree very much with the Oxford Beginner’s Dictionary.

    “She would have made an excellent teacher,” means the same as
    “She was created to be an excellent teacher.”
    Hence, the meaning of the verb “to make” here is “to create”.

    “This room would make a nice office,” means the same as
    “This room was built in the style of a good office.”
    Hence, the meaning of the verb “to make” here is “to build” or “to create.”

    In “That makes the third time he’s failed his driving test,” the verb “makes” stands in for “totals”, and “That makes the third time…” is an English idiom.

    In “One hundred cents make one dollar” or “One hundred pence make one pound sterling,” the verb “make” stands in for “equals”, which is a linking verb. (It can be replaced by “is”.)

    The Oxford Beginner’s Dictionary is obviously connected to British English. I am one of those people who is firmly entrenched in North American English – especially with those people on the eastern side of the Atlantic saying things like “the United States are”.

  2. Other idioms with “to make”, inlude one that is noted from a famous song: “I want to make it with you,” and “to be on the make”.

    Another example of a word that stems all the way back to the Indo-European: The German word for “to make” is “machen”, though this is not used in exactly the same way that “make” is in English. Often, German requires the use of more specific words, such as “produzieren”. Maybe someone here knows the words for “to make” in French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, etc.

  3. As a trainer in Europe, we are constantly advising on the correct uses of “make” and “do”, as language learners tend to mix them up quite often.
    And when running report writing seminars, I advise against using these two verbs whenever possible. They can be easily replaced with more descriptive verbs that provide better meaning in context, as you indicate in your post (produce, construct, create, etc.)

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