'Do' and its various forms (does, did, don't, doesn't, didn't) are some of the most confusing words in the English language. Those of us who grew up speaking English use them effortlessly, but for anyone learning English as a second language 'do' is ridiculously complex.

This is largely because the word 'do' does work both as a standard verb and as a somewhat random grammatical marker, and many of the jobs that it does as a grammatical marker are not found in any languages other than the Celtic languages, and moreover, are somewhat inconsistent.

The basic verb: 'do' is used as a verb indicating the performance of an action or activity. "I do a lot of stuff", "He did the deed". 'Do' is the catch-all word used when no more specific word is clearly more appropriate; for example, one would not usually say "I did the race", but rather "I ran the race".

The idiomatic verb: in addition, there are a whole lot of idiomatic phrases that use 'do' regardless of whether there is a more appropriate verb. For example, it is common to say "I'll do the dishes" rather than "I'll wash the dishes"; this is an idiomatic because without prior knowledge of common English usage there is no way to know if "doing the dishes" means setting the table, putting food on plates, putting away the dishes, or perhaps washing the dishes. Other idiomatic usages of this sort include "do your nails", "do lunch", and "that does it".

The negative form: In regular usage, negative sentences may be formed with the addition of 'don't' (short for 'do not'); "I don't want fish". ("I do not want fish" is also correct, but may be seen as more formal or more emphatic). There are other words that perform this function, and work in exactly the same way: can't (cannot), won't (will not), and shouldn't (should not).

However, when making a negative form of a sentence containing 'do', one must keep the original 'do'; one must say "I don't do a lot of stuff", and cannot say "I don't a lot of stuff". This is true regardless of the conjugation: "he doesn't do the deed"; "he didn't do the deed". This also holds when negating 'do' sentences with other negative forms: "I can't do that".

The light verb: 'do' is frequently used paired with a noun to form a verbal noun. For example, "he did work", "I did a study on fish". These constructions can almost always be made without the light verb; "he worked", "I studied fish". However, use of the light verb may indicate that the action is a single instance rather a series of actions or an ongoing action; compare "I did a dance" to "I danced".

In some cases this is a matter of style; for example, "I work on the work" is a perfectly clear statement in English, but in order to avoid repeating the word 'work' we use 'do' as a light verb; "I do the work". However, this is often a matter of personal preference; for example, "I did the painting" is not significantly more common than "I painted the painting".

The auxiliary verb: certain constructions require the use of an auxiliary verb. The most common of these is in asking yes/no questions. In English, these questions require a subject-auxiliary inversion -- meaning that the question must start with an auxiliary verb. There are comparatively few words we can use for this purpose, including 'are', 'have', and 'do'. ("Are you busy?"; "Have you won?"; "Do you want a fish?")

This is a fairly hard thing for ESL learners to pick up, particularly because very few languages do this -- in fact, in Europe it is only the Celtic languages and a few dialects of Italian (and it is much less common, perhaps even unheard of, outside of Europe). In most languages, one simply asks "you want a fish?", and in fact, this form is commonly used in informal English. But formal/proper English absolutely requires that a yes/no question starts with an auxiliary verb, even if the root sentence does not require one (e.g. both "I want a fish" and "I do want a fish" are proper English).

Things become even more complicated when looking at wh- questions. A wh- question does not require subject-auxiliary inversion if the the wh- word is the subject (or part of the subject); e.g., "what is this?", "where are you?". But if the wh- word is not the subject, the question is required to have an auxiliary verb immediately after the wh- word; e.g. "where will you go?", "what do you do?".

'Do' is also used in the anaphora of verb-phrase ellipsis, in which a second instance of a verb is replaced with 'do' in sentences comparing two things; e.g. "he works more than I do". This is generally the default grammar for this sort of sentence in English, as using the same verb twice in a sentence would sound odd. However, the rules for using 'do' to replace the second occurrence of a verb are complex; for example "he works and I do" is incorrect, but "he works and I do too" and "he works and I don't" are both correct. However, these rules are not specific to 'do', and will also apply to similar cases of ellipsis using 'can', 'will', 'should', and others.

And to tops things off, when 'do' is used as an auxiliary verb in a simple sentence, it most often serves to indicate emphasis; "I do want a fish" is more emphatic than "I want a fish".

It is worth noting that technically, the 'do' part of 'don't', used to indicate negative form, is also an auxiliary verb, and is often considered 'meaningless' in the same way as the other uses of auxiliary do. Most European languages will have negative constructions of the general form "I not want fish".

Despite this mess, grammar is one of those things that native speakers pick up as young children with comparatively little effort, and next to no awareness. While some of the rules outlined above appear incomprehensible to non-native speakers, they are so obvious to native speakers that outlining them as 'rules' seems to confuse matters rather than clarify them. This means that many native English speakers are unable to help foreign speakers correct their grammar -- they know what is right, but can't explain it.

There is some hope that as English becomes a global language it may simplify some of its more needlessly complex rules, but the grammar reform movement is dwarfed by even the minuscule spelling reform movement. But even without formal recognition some rules are changing, particularly the dropping of auxiliary verbs in asking yes/no questions in informal speech. Y'know?

do is a C programming keyword used for iteration loops when paired with the while keyword.

int i = 0;
do {
  printf("Hi mom!\n");
} while ( i != 5 );

The above code prints Hi mom! five times. Why bother with this and not just use a straight while loop? Well, whereas a while loop might not be executed at all if the conditional is false, a do loop will always be executed at least once. The conditional isn't even looked at by the program until the loop has executed once.

Getting your whiles and dos mixed up? Just remember that the while comes at the end of a do loop, so the conditional isn't evaluated until the end.

DO is a keyword of so many programming languages that it's pointless to list them all here. DO got its start with the original high level language, FORTRAN. A typical DO statement would look like:
10     DO 60 I=1,10
20     WRITE (2, 30) I
30     FORMAT ('HELLO, MOM #', I2)
40     WRITE (2, 30) I*10

The DO statement is on line 10. The first token following the keyword DO is a line number, pointing to the last statement to loop through. We'll get back to this.

Following the terminating line number is the name of a variable, and two numbers separated by commas. The variable would get assigned the first number, and the program would execute down through the program until it executed the statement at the terminating line number. Then control would pass back up to the DO statement where the variable would be incremented by 1. If this value equaled the second number, control would jump down to the first statement after the terminating line number. If you didn't your do loop's numbers correctly, you could get an infinite loop.

By convention, the statement at a DO loop's terminating line number was a CONTINUE statement. Since this isn't strictly necessary, and since the FORMAT statements don't need to be inside the loop, the DO statement above could just as easily have read DO 40 I=1,10! However, the convention was so strong that FORTRAN IV compilers issued a warning if the statement referenced by a DO loop wasn't a CONTINUE. (One of my high school FORTRAN IV programs was marked down because I didn't DO this!)

DO was included in FORTRAN as it was a means of looping that could be optimized. Many later languages adopted the word DO into their syntax, even though it was not strictly necessary. I assume this was an attempt to seduce FORTRAN programmers into trying the language by giving them something familiar.

Pascal uses DO in a rather peculiar fashion. DO acts a sort of sentinel in several of its control statements, stating that the control part is done and the statements being controlled are about to begin. Thus,

for i := 1 to 10 do statement;
while condition do statement;
with structure do statement;

KANJI: I tame (do, purpose, action)

ASCII Art Representation:

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         "%%%,        %%%%%%
           "%%%,      %%%%"
            "%%%"    %%%%
                    %%%%          ,%%%,
                  %%%%"           %%%%
                 ,%%%%           ,%%%%
                ,%%%%          ,%%%%"  ,%%,
              ,%%%"                   %%%%
            ,%%%"                    ,%%%%
          ,%%%%                    ,%%%%"  ,%%,
     ,%%%"                                %%%%
   ,%%%"                        %%,       %%%%
 %%%"   %%,     %%,     %%,      "%%,     %%%%
        %%%%     %%%,    %%%,     %%%%    %%%%
        %%%%      %%%%    %%%%    "%%"   ,%%%%
        %%%%      "%%"    "%%"          ,%%%%%
        %""                            %%%%%"

Character Etymology:

In older forms, a pictograph of a hand reaching down toward an elephant. Some scholars have interpreted this to be referring to a hand training an elephant, which involves doing the same action over and over again and this by association gives the present meanings. However, there is a conflicting theory.

Other scholars feel that the ancient form of this character is a hand making or shaping something; and indeed, ancient meanings of this character used to mean, "to form," or, "resemble." This came to mean to imitate somebody's gestures, an act of learning something to do over and over again with, "to practice," as an associated meaning. In fact, the modern form of to imitate uses this character as a radical in combination with the radical for person.

A Listing of All On-Yomi and Kun-Yomi Readings:

on-yomi: I
kun-yomi: tame na(ru) na(su) su(ru) tari tsuku(ru) nari

Nanori Readings:

Nanori: bii

English Definitions:

  1. na(ru): change; be of use; reach to.
  2. na(su): do.
  3. su(ru): do; try; play; practice; cost; serve as; pass; elapse.
  4. ni su(ru): make (something) of (a person); turn into (money).
  5. tame: good, advantage, benefit, welfare, sake; because of, as a result of.
  6. tame ni: in favor of, on behalf of.

Character Index Numbers:

New Nelson: 3411
Henshall: 1003

Unicode Encoded Version:

Unicode Encoded Compound Examples:

行為 (koui): action, an act.
為筋 (tamesuji): patron.
為過ぎる (shisugiru): overdo.


The Japanese Kanji Metanode

Do (), n.

An abbreviation of Ditto.


© Webster 1913.

Do (?), n. Mus.

A syllable attached to the first tone of the major diatonic scale for the purpose of solmization, or solfeggio. It is the first of the seven syllables used by the Italians as manes of musical tones, and replaced, for the sake of euphony, the syllable Ut, applied to the note C. In England and America the same syllables are used by mane as a scale pattern, while the tones in respect to absolute pitch are named from the first seven letters of the alphabet.


© Webster 1913.

Do (?), v. t. ∨ auxiliary. [imp. Din (#); p. p. Done (#); p. pr. & vb. n. Doing (#). This verb, when transitive, is formed in the indicative, present tense, thus: I do, thou doest () or dost , he does (), doeth (), or doth (); when auxiliary, the second person is, thou dost. As an independent verb, dost is obsolete or rare, except in poetry. "What dost thou in this world?" Milton. The form doeth is a verb unlimited, doth, formerly so used, now being the auxiliary form. The second pers, sing., imperfect tense, is didst (), formerly didest ().] [AS. dn; akin to D. doen, OS. duan, OHG. tuon, G. thun, Lith. deti, OSlav. dti, OIr. d'enim I do, Gr. to put, Skr. dha, and to E. suffix -dom, and prob. to L. facere to do, E. fact, and perh. to L. -dere in some compounfds, as addere to add, credere to trust. Cf. Deed, Deem, Doom, Fact, Creed, Theme.]


To place; to put.


Tale of a Usurer (about 1330).


To cause; to make; -- with an infinitive.


My lord Abbot of Westminster did do shewe to me late certain evidences. W. Caxton.

I shall . . . your cloister do make. Piers Plowman.

A fatal plague which many did to die. Spenser.

We do you to wit [i. e., We make you to know] of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia. 2 Cor. viii. 1.

⇒ We have lost the idiom shown by the citations (do used like the French faire or laisser), in which the verb in the infinitive apparently, but not really, has a passive signification, i. e., cause . . . to be made.


To bring about; to produce, as an effect or result; to effect; to achieve.

The neglecting it may do much danger. Shak.

He waved indifferently' twixt doing them neither good not harm. Shak.


To perform, as an action; to execute; to transact to carry out in action; as, to do a good or a bad act; do our duty; to do what I can.

Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work. Ex. xx. 9.

We did not do these things. Ld. Lytton.

You can not do wrong without suffering wrong. Emerson.

Hence: To do homage, honor, favor, justice, etc., to render homage, honor, etc.


To bring to an end by action; to perform completely; to finish; to accomplish; -- a sense conveyed by the construction, which is that of the past participle done.

"Ere summer half be done." "I have done weeping."



To make ready for an object, purpose, or use, as food by cooking; to cook completely or sufficiently; as, the meat is done on one side only.


To put or bring into a form, state, or condition, especially in the phrases, to do death, to put to death; to slay; to do away (often do away with), to put away; to remove; to do on, to put on; to don; to do off, to take off, as dress; to doff; to do into, to put into the form of; to translate or transform into, as a text.

Done to death by slanderous tongues. Shak.

The ground of the difficulty is done away. Paley.

Suspicions regarding his loyalty were entirely done away. Thackeray.

To do on our own harness, that we may not; but we must do on the armor of God. Latimer.

Then Jason rose and did on him a fair Blue woolen tunic. W. Morris (Jason).

Though the former legal pollution be now done off, yet there is a spiritual contagion in idolatry as much to be shunned. Milton.

It ["Pilgrim's Progress"] has been done into verse: it has been done into modern English. Macaulay.


To cheat; to gull; to overreach.


He was not be done, at his time of life, by frivolous offers of a compromise that might have secured him seventy-five per cent. De Quincey.


To see or inspect; to explore; as, to do all the points of interest.


10. Stock Exchange

To cash or to advance money for, as a bill or note.

⇒ (a) Do and did are much employed as auxiliaries, the verb to which they are joined being an infinitive. As an auxiliary the verb do has no participle. "I do set my bow in the cloud." Gen. ix. 13. [Now archaic or rare except for emphatic assertion.]

Rarely . . . did the wrongs of individuals to the knowledge of the public. Macaulay.

(b) They are often used in emphatic construction. "You don't say so, Mr. Jobson. -- but I do say so." Sir W. Scott. "I did love him, but scorn him now." Latham. (c) In negative and interrogative constructions, do and did are in common use. I do not wish to see them; what do you think? Did Caesar cross the Tiber? He did not. "Do you love me?" Shak. (d) Do, as an auxiliary, is supposed to have been first used before imperatives. It expresses entreaty or earnest request; as, do help me. In the imperative mood, but not in the indicative, it may be used with the verb to be; as, do be quiet. Do, did, and done often stand as a general substitute or representative verb, and thus save the repetition of the principal verb. "To live and die is all we have to do." Denham. In the case of do and did as auxiliaries, the sense may be completed by the infinitive (without to) of the verb represented. "When beauty lived and died as flowers do now." Shak. "I . . . chose my wife as she did her wedding gown."


My brightest hopes giving dark fears a being. As the light does the shadow. Longfellow.

In unemphatic affirmative sentences do is, for the most part, archaic or poetical; as, "This just reproach their virtue does excite."


To do one's best, To do one's diligence (and the like), to exert one's self; to put forth one's best or most or most diligent efforts. "We will . . . do our best to gain their assent." Jowett (Thucyd.). -- To do one's business, to ruin one. [Colloq.] Wycherley. -- To do one shame, to cause one shame. [Obs.] -- To do over. (a) To make over; to perform a second time. (b) To cover; to spread; to smear. "Boats . . . sewed together and done over with a kind of slimy stuff like rosin." De Foe. -- To do to death, to put to death. (See 7.) [Obs.] -- To do up. (a) To put up; to raise. [Obs.] Chaucer. (b) To pack together and envelop; to pack up. (c) To accomplish thoroughly. [Colloq.] (d) To starch and iron. "A rich gown of velvet, and a ruff done up with the famous yellow starch." Hawthorne. -- To do way, to put away; to lay aside. [Obs.] Chaucer. -- To do with, to dispose of; to make use of; to employ; -- usually preceded by what. "Men are many times brought to that extremity, that were it not for God they would not know what to do with themselves." Tillotson. -- To have to do with, to have concern, business or intercourse with; to deal with. When preceded by what, the notion is usually implied that the affair does not concern the person denoted by the subject of have. "Philology has to do with language in its fullest sense." Earle. "What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? 2 Sam. xvi. 10.


© Webster 1913.

Do (?), v. i.


To act or behave in any manner; to conduct one's self.

They fear not the Lord, neither do they after . . . the law and commandment. 2 Kings xvii. 34.


To fare; to be, as regards health; as, they asked him how he did; how do you do to-day?

3. [Perh. a different word. OE. dugen, dowen, to avail, be of use, AS. dugan. See Doughty.]

To succeed; to avail; to answer the purpose; to serve; as, if no better plan can be found, he will make this do.

You would do well to prefer a bill against all kings and parliaments since the Conquest; and if that won't do; challenge the crown. Collier.

To do by. See under By. -- To do for. (a) To answer for; to serve as; to suit. (b) To put an end to; to ruin; to baffle completely; as, a goblet is done for when it is broken. [Colloq.]

Some folks are happy and easy in mind when their victim is stabbed and done for. Thackeray.

-- To do withal, to help or prevent it. [Obs.] "I could not do withal." Shak. -- To do without, to get along without; to dispense with. -- To have done, to have made an end or conclusion; to have finished; to be quit; to desist. -- To have done with, to have completed; to be through with; to have no further concern with. -- Well to do, in easy circumstances.


© Webster 1913.

Do, n.

1. Deed; act; fear.


Sir W. Scott.


Ado; bustle; stir; to do.


A great deal of do, and a great deal of trouble. Selden.


A cheat; a swindle.

[Slang, Eng.]


© Webster 1913.

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