In this study, we adopt a comparable corpus-based approach to investigate variations of three DO verbs in Mandarin Chinese: zuo ‘do’, gao ‘do’ and congshi ‘be engaged in’. Mandarin Chinese is unique in having three light verbs with bare meaning. The interesting and challenging facts about these three DO verbs are that: first, their usages can be differentiated even though they share the bare minimal meaning of ‘to do’; and second, their ranges of usages vary in different varieties of Chinese. How can the complex differentiations of these three verbs within one variety and across different varieties be accounted for with the minimal shared meaning? We tackle this challenge applying functions from Chinese Word Sketch to effectively identify the subtle differences among near-synonyms and their usage variations among different varieties with explicit semantic cues. This study thus underlines the contribution of empirical approaches when there is very little intuition to rely on.