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In the sentence ‘I want to be[come] a policeman’, why is the verb for ‘become’, ‘do’?

我想做一个警察。

Wǒ xiǎng zuò yīgè jǐngchá.

I have seen one of the dictionary definitions of 做 to mean become, but this is only after coming across this sentence. I have not heard of 做 meaning anything other than ‘do’ with many expansive concepts related to it, and have only heard of 成 to mean ‘become’.

Therefore, my question is twofold. Why use 做 instead of 成 - what is the difference in meaning? And, how does the word 做 as a singular character have such a broad meaning from ‘doing’ to ‘becoming’ without the addition of another character (e.g. 做出)? Meaning, the two concepts, though perhaps related, are quite distant without adding additional meaning (e.g. 自 or something). So, what is the background that causes this contextual meaning?

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"做" contains the meaning of "be ", not "become"

"我想一个警察" means "I want to be a police"

it is "成为" that means "become", not just "成"

(成 is mostly used as a result complement for varieties of verb)

"我想成为一个警察" means "I want to become a police"

how does the word 做 as a singular character have such a broad meaning from ‘doing’ to ‘becoming’ without the addition of another character

As I stated, 做 can mean 'be' but not 'become'

You know when does it mean 'be' or 'do' by looking into the context. When the object after 做 is a task or action, you know 做 means 'do'; When the object after 做 is an identity, you know 做 means 'be'

Example:

做功課,做木工,做好事 = do homework, do woodwork, do good thing (功課,木工,好事 are all nouns for action)

做學生,做木匠,做好人 = be a student, be a carpenter, be a good person (學生,木匠,好人 are all nouns for identity)

Notice: don't confuse 做(do/ be) with 造(make), e.g. 做個包子 (be a bun) is not the same as 造個包子 (make a bun)

  • 做個包子 - very funny. – Dr. Shmuel Aug 7 at 1:02
  • Maybe you were kidding, but looking "做个包子" up on Google brings on pages about making buns, and not well, being a bun. – mic Aug 7 at 2:20
  • They all mistakenly used 做 instead of 造 – Tang Ho Aug 7 at 2:24
  • @ MiCl It could be worse, for example, you wanted to write "我要努力做人" (I want to work hard in life being a man) but wrote "我要努力造人" (I want to work hard on making people) instead. The latter implies you want to make love often so that you can have babies. – Tang Ho Aug 7 at 2:30
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    @TangHo 造包子 sounds odd. I don't hear people around ever say it. It should be either蒸包子 or 做包子. – dan Aug 11 at 13:18
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I might ask a child: 你长大想做什么?

The child might answer:

我想做一个警察。or
我想当一个警察。or
我想成为一名警察。

Why do words have more than 1 meaning? People give words meanings!

做個包子 be a wimp is not the same as make a steamed bun 造個包子.

A bun in the oven is something else entirely!

  • 做个包子 can mean "cook a bun", compared to 做饭,做吃的,etc. – dan Aug 11 at 1:10
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It's not the same, of course, as how we'd say it in English, but this is Mandarin after all. The trick is in trying to too-closely associate the English and Mandarin words in the conventional ways of speaking in the two languages, and that just doesn't work. The use of "做", meaning to "do" or to "perform", actually does make a lot of sense when you think of it this way:

In this context, "做" means "to perform the duties of" or "to do the work of".

警察 is a societal role and, hence, it is defined by the performance of certain duties or activities and you are stating a desire to commence the performance of those activities.

To more explicitly translate not just the "gist" but the underlying cognition behind this:

我想做一个警察

into English words of the closest possible meanings and with proper grammar, it would look like

"I desire (想) to do/perform [the work/duties of] (做) [one (一) instance (个) of] a police officer (警察)"

where items in [] are implied/optional in one or the other language. Hence, making it cleaner,

"I desire to take up the mantle of and perform the duties involved in being a police officer."

A less verbose expression of the same thing and, perhaps more natural to an English speaker, may be

"I would like to act in the capacity of a police officer."

so finally

"I want to be a police officer."

at maximal concision though, of course, we can condense even further in casual talk:

"I wanna be a cop!"

:)

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