Uses of Do

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ESL learners sometimes have difficulty with the uses of the verb do. For example, a reader wonders about the use of the -ing form doing:

According to what I have learned, “do” is used with the simple present form of the verb to make a question: “Do you like pizza?” But I have seen “do” used with the “-ing” form of the verb:

“Does closing a scheme for new money pay off?”
“Does shutting furnace vents improve efficiency?”
“Does doing a tattoo hurt?”

Please explain.

Do may be used as either a main verb or as a helping verb. Its forms are do, did, (have) done, doing.

As a main verb, do means “to carry out some action.”

What shall I do about the spoiled fruit? (main verb)
Mr. Baxter does odd jobs. (main verb)
She did all the cleaning for her mother. (main verb)

As a helping verb, do is used to pose questions:

Do you live in the neighborhood? (The main verb is “do live.”)
Does your dog know the basic commands? (The main verb is “does know.”)
Didn’t I see you at the Court House yesterday? (The main verb is “did see.”

Do is used both to frame a negative statement and to contradict a negative statement:

A: I don’t think you know Charley. (negative statement)
B: I do know him. (contradiction)

A: I don’t think Mrs. Wong turned off the lights last night. (negative statement)
B: She did turn them off. (contradiction)

Do is used for emphasis:

I do love chocolate chip cookies!
Jack certainly does love his Monday night football!

The form doing can be used with a helping verb to form a main verb, as in “She was doing her best not to cry,” but in the examples that puzzle the reader, the -ing form doing is not part of the verb. It is a noun (gerund):

Does closing a scheme for new money pay off? (The verb is “does pay off.” The subject is “closing a scheme for new money.”)

Does shutting furnace vents improve efficiency? (The verb is “does improve.” The subject is “shutting furnace vents.”)

Does doing a tattoo hurt? (The verb is “does hurt.” The subject is “doing a tattoo.”

In some contexts, the verb do cannot be replaced. For example, “What shall I do?” But in many others, it can be replaced by a more specific verb. For example, “I’m doing the dishes” can be rephrased as “I’m washing the dishes.”

Here are some common expressions that use do as a main verb:

do a favor
do well/do badly
do good/do evil
do damage
do homework
do housework
do nothing
do research
do something
do the math
do one’s best
do 70 miles an hour
do time (serve a prison sentence)

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4 thoughts on “Uses of Do”

  1. Do is over used. It is a lazy method of writing and leaves a reader wondering when the flavor will be served. Looking at that list of common expressions, however, is great practice for writing great prose.

    How is housework “done”? Same for research. And “do time”? – why not “pace the concrete floor and glare out between the steel bars of the cage…”

    “Do” should be done away with.

  2. DO is not overused.
    It simplifies many expressions.
    Just try some languages that do not have the Emphatic Mood such as German or Chinese.

  3. Courthouse has been the word for a long time just like
    birdhouse doghouse jailhouse schoolhouse outhouse beer house etc.

  4. I disagree completely with the above.
    Languages such as German do not have the emphatic mood that we have in English – and that leads to awkward expressions with many adverbs in them.

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