Say It Right Series
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difference of 做 and 作 - such charecter choices generally

Posted by tingyun November 14, 2010 in the Group General Discussion.

I was about to answer Emasur's question about the difference between 做 and 作 in a lesson board - when I realized it was a Newbie lesson and my response a bit unfitting.  So I posted a short answer there and the remainder here, for any who might find it useful or interesting:

The meaning of 作 and 做 is essentially the same - and if all you are worried about is recognizing and reading, then you can leave it at that.  If you'd like to be able to write and know which to use, the simplest take is that 做zuo4 is used for more concrete actions, and simpler words, while  作zuo4 is used for more abstract actions and more complicated and formal words.  

English dictionaries don't tend to include the same extensive discussion of such issues that Chinese dictionaries do (and english ones often get subtle distinctions wrong anyway), so I'll translate a Chinese dictionary's explanation below:

taken from

作 and 做are not the same.:  In words of abstract meaning, or words with comparatively heavy literary/formal flavor, especially Chengyu, for the most part you will use 作.  For example - 作罢 zuo4ba4 -cancel, stop; 作对 zuo4dui4 oppose, compete; 作废zuo4fei4 abandon, become useless, discard; 作怪 zuo4guai4 original meaning ghosts/demons causing trouble, now mainly used by analogy to mean for someone to cause trouble; 作乱 zuo4luan4 rebel, violently rise up in revolt; 作战 zuo4zhan4  fight, battle; 装模作样 zhuang1mu2zuo4yang4 pretend, fake; 忸怩作态 niu3ni2zuo4tai4 acting in an affected and unnatural manner, act coyly,(I think usually describing females).

If after zuo4 you are going to use a 2-syllable VERB, then you will also usually use 作。For example, 作调查zuo4diao4cha2 conduct an investigation; 作处理zuo4chu3li3 conduct a process and deal with a matter.

If you are discussing creating some specific object, then you will usually use 做.  For example, 做药材 zuo4yao4cai2 make medicine做衣服 zuo4yi1fu0 make clothes.
END of translation

note - I'd add to the above a few words that it makes sense to know which zuo4 to use, and some also specifically chosen to help you get the pattern.  工作 gong1zuo4 work; 做作zuo4zuo4 to act in an affected unnatural false manner (I'd remember this also with 各个ge4ge4 each, one by one - in both cases the more complicated character goes first), 做作业zuo4zuo4ye4 do homework (again, making something) , 做夫妻zuo4fu1qi1 to be husband and wife (I include this to point out the rule above is about being followed by 2 syllable VERBS, 2 syllable nouns can be 做) 做鬼脸zuo4gui3lian3 make strange faces appearance, 作文zuo4wen2 write article, 做文章 zuo4wen2zhang1 write article (ok, so why the difference?  Because the shorter 作文 is a more formal word for the same thing...and more formal means 作)


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