Home improvements: the language of making and repairing things in your home

by Liz Walter

Su Arslanoglu/E+/Getty Images

Apparently, a lot of people who are either in lockdown or working from home because of the pandemic are using their extra time to do jobs in the home, so this post offers some words and phrases to talk about these tasks.

Both Brits and Americans talk about home improvements, which could be anything from painting a room to putting in a whole new kitchen and could be done by anyone. British (and Canadian) people often use the word DIY, which stands for ‘do it yourself’. As the name indicates, this term is used for doing things yourself rather than hiring a professional. Small repairs are often called odd jobs. Note the collocations: we can make or do home improvements, but we do DIY and odd jobs:

Many people are making home improvements to add value to their property.

I spent the weekend doing some DIY.

Can you recommend someone to do a few odd jobs for me?

British people are most likely to refer to stores that sell materials and equipment for these jobs as DIY stores, while Americans are most likely to call them home improvement stores/centers. Both varieties of English refer to hardware stores, which sell tools and metal objects such as nails:

I need to go to the DIY/home improvement/hardware store to buy a saw.

Other verbs that mean ‘repair’ are fix and mend (UK only). We renovate buildings and restore furniture. More informally, we can use the phrasal verb do up for buildings or furniture.

I need to fix the door handle.

They live in a renovated warehouse.

She spent months restoring an old oak wardrobe.

They’re planning to do up the cottage and rent it to holidaymakers.

If we keep buildings, furniture or equipment in good condition, we maintain it. The noun maintenance is often used too – be careful with the spelling!:

They maintain the building by making repairs when necessary.

Hardwood floors require a lot of maintenance.

There are several nice collocations connected with home improvement. For large pieces of equipment or furniture such as cupboards, we use verbs like install, fit or put in. We usually put up shelves and assemble furniture that comes in pieces:

They installed a new boiler.

We need to find someone to fit our kitchen.

He put up some shelves in his study.

Do you have any instructions for assembling the bed?

Finally, many tools have the same noun and verb forms. Examples include: drill, hammer, chisel, file, plane and saw:

You need to drill through the brick.

I chiselled a small hole in the plaster.

Let me know if you have been doing any home improvements, and look out for the second part of this topic, which will focus on decorating.

21 thoughts on “Home improvements: the language of making and repairing things in your home

  1. Onyong

    What interesting article for English learners?
    One of the sentences in the article goes “They maintain the building by making repairs when necessary”.
    Do we ‘make repairs’ or ‘do repairs’? Which is the right collocation?

      1. Onyong Onyong

        Thank you so much!

        On Wed, 7 Apr 2021 at 11:41, About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog wrote:

        > Liz Walter commented: “I think ‘making’ sounds more natural, though > ‘doing’ wouldn’t be wrong.” >

      2. Natalie

        At the beginning of the article you said “Many people are MAKING home improvements to add value to their property”. But at the end of the post you said “Let me know if you have been DOING any home improvements?” Which is correct?

  2. Denis

    It takes some beating! 🙂
    At the same time, I’d add a couple more rather useful verbs – refurbish (= renovate) and revamp (to change or rearrange something in order to improve it).

  3. Maryem Salama

    It is the first time I face uncommon meaning for the word study mentioned in an interesting blog. Thank you, Liz to let me know.

  4. Liz Walter

    Just to be clear, you can ‘make’ or ‘do’ home improvements. ‘Make’ is perhaps the better collocation, but it’s not one of those words (like homework, or friends) where only one of the verbs is correct.

  5. Serhii

    “Note the collocations: we MAKE home improvements, but we do DIY and odd jobs”
    And then comes the last but definitely not least in this case sentence: “Let me know if you have been DOING any home improvements…”

    Conclusion: rules are made to be broken)

  6. Lawrence

    Down here in Goa, we have the portuguese word ‘susegaad’, which is ‘holistic’ toeverything related to ‘take it easy. Hick, cheers!

  7. bohugh

    Just discovered this hidden treasure. I will definitely look forward to reading more.
    Thanks for your great work.

  8. Maida

    You said it’s a collocation to make home improvements , but in the last passage you wrote : let me know if you have been doing any home improvements. So…?

  9. Liz Walter

    Well spotted! I’ve asked the editor to amend the post. I think it’s a bit complicated in reality – we would always say ‘make improvements’, but with ‘home improvements’, do is possible, especially if you have a quantifier such as ‘some’ or ‘any’ before it. Sorry for the confusion!

  10. I’d love your article so much I’m thinking of translating it into my language and publishing it on my site . so my users can read this.

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