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Posted by Smokey Stover on February 23, 2004

In Reply to: Make posted by James Briggs on February 22, 2004

: : : : Hi!

: : : : An Englsih text book has a sentence below.

: : : : "Mary will make John a fine wife."

: : : : I think this is a strange sentence, but the book says it means 'Mary will be a fine wife to John.'

: : : : I wonder if this sentence has such a meaning.

: : : : Thanks for you answer.

: : : : Tom
: : : Yes, strange as it may seem, it is understood just that way.

: : In West Virginia, we used "make" to mean "will become." "She's going to make a teacher." Meaning she is studying to be a teacher.

: In the UK too. He's going to 'make the grade', means that he's expected attain that grade; become that grade or - become a fine wife.

Curious. The OED says that "make the grade" is originally an American expression. Even more curious is the fact that an English textbook would print the sentence quoted without pointing out that John is in indirect object. Otherwise the sentence really is kind of funny. One can just (barely) imagine Mary making John into a good wife. If "make" is a transitive verb, which I think it has to be, then the direct object is "a good wife." Of course, make is one of the oldest words in the language and one of the most flexible. The Oxford English Dictionary has page after page of meanings and idiomatic usages, including some which, as we would expect, overlap with the meanings for "do". Many Romance and Germanic languages use the same word for "make" and "do." (Was machen Sie da? Machen Sie die Tuer zu. Cosa fai? L'ho fatto questa macchina io. Ha fatto la musica il Mancini.) The OED includes a few examples in which they translate "make", for the sake of our understanding of the example, as "will be" or "will become." I think this is possibly misleading. "Make" can be either transitive or intransitive (usually the latter), but I think it's stretching things too far to think it can be a copulative verb. So how shall we understand its use in the sentence in question? Try these examples: "Jean Simmons made an excellent, if somewhat bloodless, Ophelia. Olivier did Hamlet as a sort of cold fish, much as he did Henry V." When Jean Simmons "made" a good Ophelia, she impersonated her, or represented her, or played her part. The same when Olivier "did" Hamlet. This is not a case of elision. The impersonation or role-playing is inherent in the verb, in this particular usage. Try also, "The ambitious impressionist then did Jay Leno doing Arnold Schwarzenegger." We don't have to say "Did an impression of ...." That's the meaning of the verb in this context. So Mary is going to do the role of a good wife for John. No theatrical allusion is necessarily implied. If you think Google brings up gazillions of references, try the OED. Incidentally, you don't have to buy a subscription to the online version if you can make it (!) to some nearby (and not too tiny) library. SS

  • Make abe 23/February/04