What is the difference between "tun", "machen", and "schaffen"?

I have seen those words as "do", for example, in

  • Ich tue es. → I do it.
  • Ich mache es selber. → I do it myself.
  • Ich kann es schaffen. → I can do it.
  • 4
    Was sagt denn das Wörterbuch? – user unknown Feb 8 '19 at 16:43

"Wir schaffen das" means: We will make it. I know that I will make it. We will achieve it.

"Wir tun es" is identical with "Wir machen es": We carry something out!

But there's a slight difference between tun (-> Tat) and machen:

(but only in certain cases!)

machen = to produce something


tun = to execute something


  • Wir machen Feierabend. Was tust Du? Schlafen. – user unknown Feb 8 '19 at 16:43
  • OK: Ich führe den Schlaf aus, klar? Macht nichts. Produziert nichts ;) Ich sags ja, es ist nur eine leichte Nuance. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 8 '19 at 16:59
  • Note that schaffen exists both as a strong and as a weak verb. As a strong verb (Ich schaffe/schuf/habe geschaffen) it means "to create". In "Ich schaffe es", meaning "I will do it/make it" it is a weak verb (Ich schaffe es/schaffte es/habe es geschafft). Weak "schaffen" is also used as a synonym of "arbeiten" in some regions. – RHa Feb 10 '19 at 19:53

schaffen in that sense is rather idiomatic and doesn't compare well to tun and machen. Personally, I lexicalize it as reach, "bis ins Ziel geschaft", hence "ich schaffe es". That's probably closer to "etwas wohin schaffen" (to bring something somewhere). This sense might be influenced by schieben (to push, move); cp. to shove. The other, I might say regular, interpretation is found in erschaffen (create); cp. herstellen vs hinstellen.

I think tun is in many cases proscribed (forbidden), ie. it's never used as auxiliary and doesn't appear in composita (at least not frequently). In English, occasions of a bare do actually stem from an understanding of it replacing a complex verbal phrase. "Do I go to the shop? I do!" (or even "Yes, I am"; at least, I saw that once explained as standing in for a present continuous construction in a context where that tense hadn't even been used before). "tun" has gotten a connotation of pretension, "er tut nur so" (he's faking it). Plattdeutsch "tut das Not?" (ist das nötig - is that needed/necessary) is obviously closer to the English channel. The civil law code knows Tun only as noun or in "kundtun" (synonym "kundgeben", "bekannt geben"); Searching the text, I came to wonder whether -tung is a legitimate suffix related to thing ...

Whereas machen is used almost like an auxiliary verb, e.g. "Musik, Krach machen" (make music, noise), "Feierabend machen" (to end the workday), "bekannt machen" (to make known) and somewhat weird, IMHO, in "Aufwendungen ... gemacht" in the civil law code. In some cases it corresponds to haben "Freunde machen, Freunde haben" (to make friends, to have friends) and "Feierabend haben"; Not so for "Krach haben" (to have a disagreement). machen may be used in dialect as to go, "wir machen nach Leipzig" (we make for Leipzig), or perhaps "mach dich vom Acker" (get lost), "los machen" (to leave, make off). It's generally used colloquially for move, set, place, "mach das da hin", where others might prefer "tue/setze/stelle/lege das dorthin"; There's also "etwas ab machen" (to remove something [e.g. dirt from clothes]), "das geht nicht ab" (it doesn't come off) and more abstract verbal phrases like "eine Abmachung treffen", thus "etwas abmachen" (to make an appointent, agreement).

Along those lines, become vs bekommen and get should also be compared.

  • Thank you, I wanted to like your answer, but I don't have enough reputation, but thank you. – user36026 Feb 8 '19 at 22:48

You could also say

  • I do it myself -> ich tue es selber
  • I can do it -> ich kann es tun

But it sounds not that good, cause in german "tun" isn't used as much as "do" is in english.

Also possible is "machen" is "make" and "schaffen" is "accomplish"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy