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Do: forms

Do is an irregular verb. Its three forms are do, did, done. The present simple third person singular is does:

Will you do a job for me?

I did some shopping this morning.

Have you done your essay yet?

He usually does his homework in front of the television.

Do: uses

We use do as a main verb and an auxiliary verb. We can also use it as a substitute verb.

Do as a main verb

Do as a main verb has a number of meanings.

Perform or take part in an action

We use do to talk about actions in general, when we do not specify exactly what the action is:

What have you been doing today, anything interesting?

There is nothing we can do except wait and see what happens.

Can I do anything to help?

Achieve, complete or deal with something

We use do as a main verb to talk about achieving or completing things:

A:

I’ve done the washing up.

B:

Oh, thank you.

We did 80 miles on the first day of our cycling holiday.

She does the crossword in the newspaper every day.

Work and other tasks

We use do with nouns such as homework, job, task, work:

She has a lot of homework to do tonight.

I’m going to do some work in the garden this weekend.

If you want to know what someone’s job or profession is, you can use the main verb do in a question:

A:

What does Jackie’s brother do?

B:

He’s an electrician.

Not: What does Jackie’s brother?

Study a subject

We use do to talk about studying subjects:

A:

What did you do at university?

B:

I did economics.

All children have to do English in primary school.

Take part in activities

We use do as a main verb to talk about taking part in activities:

I did a lot of hiking and mountain-climbing when I was younger.

She did a trip down the Amazon when she was in Brazil.

Produce or create

Spoken English:

We often use do with nouns such as copy, design, drawing, painting, especially in informal speech:

I like that photo of you and me. Can you do me a copy?

Who did the design for the website?

She did a lovely painting of the lake where we stayed last summer.

Clean or make tidy

We use do as a main verb to talk about cleaning things or making them tidy:

The cleaner was doing my room when I came back.

I’ll just do my hair and then I’ll be ready.

Be enough or acceptable

We use do as a main verb with will or won’t to talk about things being enough or acceptable:

A:

What size bag do you need?

B:

A small one will do. (a small one is enough/acceptable)

Do as an auxiliary verb

Do is one of three auxiliary verbs in English: be, do, have. We use do to make negatives (do + not), to make question forms, and to make the verb more emphatic.

meaning

example

negative

I didn’t see you at the concert the other night.

question form

Do they open at nine o’clock on weekdays?

emphatic

He does look smart in his new suit!

Question (?) form

To make the question form of most main verbs, we use do, does (present simple) and did (past simple) followed by the subject and the main verb:

Do you play football?

Doesn’t he phone you now and then?

Did your mother come from the same place as your father?

Negative (−) form

The negative of the present simple and past simple of all main verbs (except for be and some uses of have as main verbs) is made with auxiliary do + not, which is shortened to don’t (do not), doesn’t (does not) and didn’t (did not). We use the short forms in everyday informal language, and the full forms in more formal situations:

I don’t want to wait for a bus. Let’s get a taxi.

Jack doesn’t live in the town centre. He’s out in the suburbs.

Didn’t you get my email? I sent it at about four o’clock.

The Prime Minister does not take personal phone calls from members of the public. (more formal)

Did the parents not realise that something serious had happened to their child? (more formal)

Emphatic forms

We use do, does (present simple) or did (past simple) to give extra force to the main verb. We use the infinitive of the main verb without to, and stress do/does/did when speaking.

Compare

neutral

emphatic

I like your new jacket.

I do like your new jacket!

She looks so tired.

She does look so tired!

I didn’t recognise your dad, but I recognised your mum.

I didn’t recognise your dad, but I did recognise your mum.

We also use emphatic do with imperatives.

Do come and have dinner with us some time.

Do stop talking, Harry! You’re boring everybody!

Question tags

We use auxiliary do to form question tags for clauses which do not have a modal verb, a verb in the perfect with have or clauses with be. The tag uses the same person and tense as the subject of the main verb. The tag may be affirmative or negative, depending on the type of tag:

You work with Peter, don’t you? (affirmative main verb, negative tag)

She plays the piano, doesn’t she?

Little children don’t usually like spicy food, do they? (negative main verb, affirmative tag)

They didn’t stay very long, did they?

You live near Harkness, do you? (affirmative verb, affirmative tag)

They arrived late, did they?

Do as an auxiliary verb: typical errors

  • We don’t use auxiliary do to make questions or negatives for clauses with modal verbs:

Will you be here in time for lunch?

Not: Do you will be here

I can’t swim very well.

Not: I don’t can swim

  • We use auxiliary do, not auxiliary be, for questions with main verbs in the present simple:

Do you live in an apartment?

Not: Are you live in

  • We use does, not do, for the third person in the present tense:

Does your sister have brown eyes too?

Not: Do your sister have

Do as a substitute verb

We often use do instead of repeating all the words in a clause. Do substitutes for the words we don’t repeat:

A:

We went to the concert in the park this year.

B:

Yes, we did too. (Yes, we went to the concert in the park too.)

We don’t use do alone if the substitute verb is in the to-infinitive form. In those cases, we omit the verb but keep to, or we use do so, do it or do that:

It’s not often I write letters to newspapers, but that day I desperately felt the need to. or … the need to do so/it/that. (I desperately felt the need to write letters to newspapers.)

Not: … the need to do.

Do so, do it, do that

We sometimes add so, it or that after the substitute do. Do so, do it and do that are sometimes used differently, but they are often interchangeable:

He said he was going to move to New Zealand and, to everyone’s surprise, he did so/did it/did that.

Do so

We use do so mostly to refer to actions where the subject and verb are the same as the ones we have mentioned. Do so is generally more formal than do it and do that:

I wanted them to leave, and politely asked them to do so, but they wouldn’t go, so I called the police. (I wanted them to leave and I politely asked them to leave.)

Warning:

Do so is more formal than do on its own:

A:

Do you mind if I open the present now?

B:

Yes, please do so. (Do so substitutes for open the present now)

We often use do so when we make a general reference to a series of actions or events:

The birds make their nests on the north side of the island in little holes in the rocks. The reason why they do so is because the south side of the island is exposed to extreme winds.

Do it

We use do it when we refer to an action or an event involving a verb and an object, especially when the subject is different from the one already mentioned:

A:

He accidentally deleted some emails on his computer.

B:

I do it all the time. (I delete files all the time.)

Do that

Do that is more emphatic and we use it for deliberate actions:

A:

Would you ever give a complete stranger your phone number?

B:

No. I would never do that. (I would never give a complete stranger my phone number.)

We often use do that in situations where we are contrasting things:

A:

Would you like to have a few nights in a motel?

B:

No, we’d prefer not to do that. We’d rather have a nice hotel. (We’d prefer not to have a few nights in a motel.)

A:

I’ve decided to wait a year before starting college. I want to travel a bit and see the world.

B:

I really think you should do that rather than starting college. You’re still so young. College will still be an option this time next year.

We can use a modal or an auxiliary verb + do to substitute for a main verb and what comes after it:

A:

I feel terrible.

B:

You should go to the doctor.

A:

I should do, I know, but I have so much work to finish.

A:

Has Martin met Paul before?

B:

He could have done at the sales meeting last year, but I’m not sure.

(“Do” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)
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