Do you know how to express the English verb "to do" in German? Most often the word you want is machen, but there is another one you should get comfortable with, even if its derivations are more prevalent than usages in its pure form.
Learn tun. It's very useful. Here's enough to get you started; check out canoo.net's entry for the entire list of tenses and stuff. German Wiktionary lists some common — and less formal, which are hard to come by — usages for your perusal as well.
|Past Perfect||haben getan|
Ho-hum. Another stem-changing (and therefore irregular) verb. What's the big deal? It's that preterite form — tat — that's so useful.
die Tat, and other nouns
- Die Tat is a cognate here to the English "deed." 1
- What do you call a person who does evil deeds? "Evil-doer," natch. In German: der Übeltäter.
- Accordingly, in the criminal justice system, perps are Täter. 2
- Richard Marx' 2 sophomore effort would have been called der Wiederholungstäter in German. Somehow, it's just not quite as catchy.
- Where does a crime happen? Zum Tatort.
- If something truly happened, it's a thing of fact — a Tatsache.
- "Indeed!" translates quite literally to in der Tat!
- Guests in infomercials proclaim tatsächlich! after a product demo to confirm the manufacturer's claims. 4
- Du tust mir weh! 5
- Wichtigtuer, Wichtigtuerei:The guy who thinks his stuff is more important than anyone else's, or the act of being like that guy. Oddly, he is not a *Wichtigtäter.
- wohltuend, wohltätig: I learned that Mother Teresa does good. Everyone else, at best, does well. But in German, you are wohltuend/wohltätig if you are doing good (i.e., being a Wohltäter. 6
Perhaps this can be your rule of thumb: concrete, real-world accomplishments seem to need machen to describe the act. But getting comfortable with tun and its many abstract usages and derivations makes the foreign speaker sound polished. Und das tut gut.
What other Anwendungsfälle are there for tun? Share your wisdom in the comments please!
Der Täter tat's! ↑
Another very common example is the apology: "Es tut mir Leid." And of course I have to mention the Rammstein song "Ich tuh dir weh (tut mir nicht leid...)"! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwOi-oG56iw
Ah yes; how could I have forgotten "Es tut mir leid" -- the most common fib in Germany? Your double example is quite handy on another tangent: are leidtun and wehtun separable-prefix verbs? It looks like it, but Leid and Weh are nouns — specifically, direct objects of the tun, which is why the person involved is the indirect object (mir/dir)...or are leid and weh adverbs modifying geheimnisvolle verbs?
Was kann ich fuer Sie tun?