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Difference between tun and machen?

In German lessons and in textbooks, I've always seen the verb 'machen' used to mean to 'do', however in shows and films the word 'tun' is used much more often:

z.b. 'Was hast du getan?'

Is there a difference in the meanings? (apart from that machen can also mean 'make') and does it matter which I use when?


November 17, 2017



Hi George,

these words are extremly similar. When I was in school I learned to build sentences with tun is not good german. For example. 'Ich tue putzen' We were always been corrected to 'Ich putze'. I really don't know how to answer your question because 'tun' and 'machen' are two words for the same thing but we cobine them differently. 'Tu mir das nicht an' (Don't do that to me) but we wouldn' say 'Mach mir das nicht an' (sounds so weird, I can't translate it :-)) Correct would be 'Mach' mich nicht an!' (Don't mess with me!) 'Es macht mir nichts aus' (I don't mind) or 'Das tut man nicht' (That's not be done).

I can give you the tip to look up in the german duden. Maybe the difference will be more clearly. I hope someone can give you a better answer than I did.

best regards Angel




There are examples where the two verbs are not interchangeable: Geschaefte machen Dummheiten machen Freude machen Tue mir das nicht an= don't do that to me


In general "machen" and "tun" have the same meaning (apart from the additional "make"-meaning of "machen", as you said). But they are not always interchangeable, because some phrases are kind of idiomatic. RedAngel666 has already mentioned some examples. I'm afraid there is no real rule by which you can tell whether to use "tun" or "machen".
In your sentence though, you could also say "Was hast du gemacht?". This is an example where you could use both.


Hi Kit,

I agree with you. But 'Was hast du getan?' and 'Was hast du gemacht?' are interchangeable. Except someone did something really bad or inapprehensible. Then you use only 'getan' not 'gemacht' anymore. Would you agree?

Best regards Angel


Apart from idiomatic expressions they are mostly interchangable. The one big difference I can think of, is that machen can be used in the sense of “to make, to produce”, whereas tun can’t:

  • Ich mache Abendessen. (I’m making dinner.) But not:
  • * Ich tue Abendessen. (I’m doing dinner?)
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