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'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.

Verb Forms

Present Tense
Singulars Plurals
ich tue wir tun
du tust ihr tut
er/sie/es tut sie tun
Past Tenses
Preterite tat
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.

Other expressions

  • "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

It's done

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!

1. Just as tun is to "to do." Thanks,
2. But they are more likely böse rather than übel.. Mir ist übel! means I'm about to lose my lunch. Ich bin böse! can mean I'm angry, or evil. Or maybe both. Also: Wer hat meine Kartoffel gestohlen?
Der Täter tat's!
3. Any relation to Karl?
4. "That's great bass!"
2. Humorously interpreted as "You do me double-u!" on the "Fränglisch mit Loddar" recurring sketch on Bayern 3. 'W' →weh Get it?
6. Why, in English, do we say "Evil-doer" but "do-gooder?"