Understanding the Idiom: "make good on" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

In today’s world, idioms are an essential part of our everyday language. They add color to our conversations and help us express ourselves in a more creative way. One such idiom that is commonly used in English is “make good on”. This phrase is often heard in business or legal contexts, but it can also be used in everyday situations.

The Meaning of “Make Good On”

When someone says they will “make good on” something, it means they will fulfill a promise or obligation. It implies that the person has made a commitment and intends to follow through with it. The phrase can also mean to compensate for a loss or damage caused by someone’s actions.

Examples of Using “Make Good On”

Situation Example Sentence
Business Deal “I promise to make good on my payment by next week.”
Damaged Property “The insurance company agreed to make good on the damages caused by the storm.”
Promised Favor “I’ll make good on my promise to take you out for dinner this weekend.”

The use of this idiom shows that the speaker takes their commitments seriously and intends to honor them. Understanding its meaning and usage can help you communicate more effectively with others, especially in professional settings where promises and obligations play an important role.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “make good on”

The phrase “make good on” is a common idiom used in English to describe fulfilling a promise or commitment. However, like many idioms, its origins and historical context are not immediately clear from its literal meaning.

To understand where this phrase came from, we must first look at the history of the word “good.” In Old English, the word “gōd” meant not only morally upright or virtuous but also useful or beneficial. Over time, this dual meaning evolved into two distinct senses of the word: one related to morality and ethics and another related to practicality and usefulness.

It is likely that the phrase “make good on” originated from this latter sense of the word “good.” To make something good in this sense means to make it effective or successful. Thus, when someone says they will “make good on” a promise or commitment, they are essentially saying they will ensure that their words translate into action and produce positive results.

Interestingly, similar phrases can be found in other languages as well. For example, in French there is an expression “tenir parole,” which literally translates to “hold one’s word,” but carries a similar connotation of following through on promises.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “make good on”

When using idioms in everyday language, it is important to understand their various meanings and how they can be used in different contexts. The idiom “make good on” is no exception. This phrase has several variations that can change its meaning slightly depending on the situation.

One common variation of this idiom is “make good.” While similar in meaning, this version does not include the preposition “on” and is often used to describe someone fulfilling a promise or obligation. For example, if someone promises to pay back a loan, they may say “I will make good on my promise.”

Another variation of this idiom is “make good for.” This version implies that someone needs to compensate for something they have done wrong or failed to do. For instance, if someone damages another person’s property, they may need to make good for their mistake by paying for repairs.

Additionally, the phrase “make it good” can also be considered a variation of this idiom. It means to rectify a situation or make up for something that went wrong. For example, if an employee makes a mistake at work, their boss may tell them to fix it and make it good.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “make good on”


– Fulfill a promise

– Keep one’s word

– Deliver on a commitment

– Follow through with an agreement

– Honor an obligation


– Break a promise

– Go back on one’s word

– Fail to deliver on a commitment

– Renegue on an agreement

– Disregard an obligation

Cultural Insights:

The concept of making good on promises is deeply ingrained in many cultures around the world. In Western societies such as the United States and Europe, keeping one’s word is highly valued and seen as essential for building trust and credibility. However, in some Eastern cultures such as Japan and China, indirect communication is often preferred over direct promises. In these contexts, it may be more appropriate to use phrases such as “I will do my best” or “I’ll see what I can do” instead of explicitly stating that you will make good on something.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “make good on”

Putting the Idiom into Practice

Exercise 1: Role Play Scenarios

One effective way to practice using “make good on” is by engaging in role play scenarios with a partner or group. Create different scenarios where one person makes a promise or commitment, and then has to follow through and “make good on” that promise. For example, one scenario could involve a landlord promising to fix a tenant’s broken refrigerator, but failing to do so until pressured by the tenant. Use this opportunity to practice using the idiom in context, while also improving your communication skills.

Exercise 2: Writing Prompts

Incorporating these practical exercises into your language learning routine can greatly improve your ability to use idioms like “make good on” effectively and confidently.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “make good on”

When using idioms, it is important to understand their meaning and usage in order to avoid common mistakes. The idiom “make good on” can be confusing for non-native English speakers, as it has multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

Using “make good on” as a synonym for “keep a promise”

The most common mistake when using this idiom is assuming that it always means “to keep a promise”. While this is one of its meanings, “make good on” can also mean to fulfill an obligation or repay a debt. For example, if someone owes you money and they finally pay you back, they have made good on their debt.

Misusing the preposition

Another mistake when using this idiom is misusing the preposition that follows it. In some cases, “on” may not be appropriate and another preposition should be used instead. For instance, if you say that someone made good on their word at work by completing a task ahead of schedule, you would use the preposition “at”, not “on”.

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