Why we say “make a change to it” but “change it”

change make a change

Using make with a noun creates a more complex sentence than cases where it is possible to use the noun as a verb. For example:

  • I want you to make a change to this picture.
  • I want you change this picture.

In these sentences, change is used as a noun and a verb. When used as a noun, with the verb to make, it requires additional words – a and to, to fit into the sentence. When we use change as a verb, it relates to the object of the sentence directly. Here’s why:

 

How we use “make”

We use make with a noun in English to refer to creating, building or constructing something. This is simple when used literally:

  • I will make a card.
  • He made dinner.

Make can also be used less literally, for changes, commitments and some states. We still use it like this because something is created, even if the creation is not physical:

  • Please make some changes to the report. (Technically, reconstruct the report.)
  • She made a resolution to stop eating chocolate. (She created a commitment.)
  • This all makes sense. (It creates a sensible idea.)

The explanations in brackets make the technical meanings sound very formal, though the examples using make are quite casual, and can be understood more simply.

In all these cases, make requires a direct object, a noun that the action is done to. When the direct object is countable, it requires a determiner (following the rules of articles – a, the, some, etc.).

For more complex sentences, we may also use an indirect object, which is not directly related to the action. In these cases, we connect the direct object to the indirect object, with the preposition to, to show a direct application. So when we make a change to the report, the verb and direct object are applied to an indirect object, the report.

We could use other prepositions to show a different relationship:

  • The salad made a change from burgers.

 

Why we use ‘to make’ instead of ‘to change’ 

The main reason to use to make instead of to change is to show that an action was applied to the object, so the object was altered (not completely changed, or replaced).  It usually suggests small differences, while the direct verb might show big or general differences:

  • I made a change to the title. (I altered something in the existing title.)
  • I changed the title. (I replaced or completely rewrote the title.)

Be warned: this is not a hard rule. The two sentences above could be used to refer to the same change. However, while  change on its own can often be used for small adjustments, make a change to is not used for large changes and replacements.

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