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Amongst North Indian Students, the phrase "give an exam" is very popular. These students use the phrase to describe the act of writing the answers to examination questions.

The reason being, in Hindi, it's known as "exam dhena" which translates literally to "to give an exam".

In South India, however, a majority of people use the phrase "to take up an exam".

Which of these usages is more common/appropriate/grammatical? (As a prof I have developed a strange aversion toward the "give an exam" phrase; I find it wrong and ugly.)

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I don't understand. Do you mean in Indian English "give an exam" is the same as "take an exam"? In Britain, students "take exams" (or "sit them"). The examining board may "feasibly "give an exam", but usually it's "set an exam". – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '12 at 18:12
This sounds like peeving. – simchona Feb 18 '12 at 18:43
There are three verbs which we use when a candidate writes down on paper the answers to an exam: a)sit b)take and c)do. Although do is perhaps more commonly used for tests, such as "do an English test". You can also "do (or have) a driving/blood test". – Mari-Lou A Nov 14 '13 at 7:10
up vote 14 down vote accepted

It depends on what it means. In American English, students take an exam, while professors give an exam. This is very normal usage.

The metaphor is that the professor provides something, and the students accept it, which is straightforward in any educational context.

On the other hand, you didn't provide any examples, so I suppose it's possible that your students might use the phrase give an exam to refer to what the student does, rather than what the professor does (i.e. setting, composing, or presenting an exam). This usage would be decidedly odd in American English, and potentially confusing.

"Ugly", on the other hand, is a personal esthetic judgement; my experience is that personal judgements of beauty and its opposite vary enormously, and have nothing to do with language per se.

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And what about the "up"? To take up an exam would not be heard in the US for either taking or giving it. – GEdgar Feb 18 '12 at 18:30
That's true; it would mean to collect the exam papers from the students at the end of the examination. If it meant anything. – John Lawler Feb 18 '12 at 18:34
@JohnLawler: Lawler, take up an exam is also wrong?!! as in the phrase "take up something" because u begin to undergo a process. is "take exam" not like collecting an exam paper?!! because collecting an exam paper is like a single event. but writing answers is a process/? – Thale Feb 19 '12 at 11:27
I don't know what it's supposed to mean. It sounds like it's Indian English, which has lots of expressions that sound strange to Americans. There is no standard of "wrong", however. Language is what people speak; there's no right or wrong, just understandable or not understandable, for various reasons. – John Lawler Feb 19 '12 at 17:38

We all have our likes and dislikes about language, Pandey. We’re entitled to them and we’re entitled to express them. What we’re not entitled to do is to claim that our preferences represent the only acceptable forms of the language. English comes in many, many varieties. Indian English is one them and your experience suggests there are varieties within Indian English itself. I have not heard either of the terms you mention, but then I live in the UK where the normal British English expression is take an exam or sit an exam. There is nothing intrinsically ‘ugly’ about give an exam and I suspect your aversion to it is based on nothing more than the fact that it is not used in the part of India where, I assume, you live.

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usage by students: "give an exam" to describe the act of writing the answers to the questions. – Thale Feb 18 '12 at 18:24
Leave alone the opinion part, is the above usage correct? Btw, Well said about expressing opinions. agreed :) what i was concerned is about the idea of finding the phrase ugly itself? ie, having an opinion in the first place - is that right or wrong when it comes to phrases...? – Thale Feb 18 '12 at 18:31
"Different" need not be either right or wrong. You may have an opinion that something is ugly, and you admit your aversion is "strange", but are these relevant to the question? – GEdgar Feb 18 '12 at 18:39
@Pandey: 'Correct' is an unhelpful word when discussing language. If 'give an exam' is widely used in a certain language community in the north of India, then all we can say it is a feature of that variety of the language. – Barrie England Feb 18 '12 at 18:49
@Pandey: As I think both Barry and myself have made clear, British native speakers use neither "give an exam" nor your preferred "take up an exam". Both those versions are probably exclusive to Indian English, and you must decide for yourself which are acceptable to you. Personally, I don't "like" either, but I'm British, so they're not variants I hear. – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '12 at 2:26

I think you neither give nor take an exam, you write an exam.

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"Taking an exam" is semantically natural to mean "sitting down and writing answers to question posed on an examination paper in an examination setting". – Matt E. Эллен Mar 4 '14 at 12:58
Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator intervention. Use flags when some action beyond editing, voting, or commenting is required. – MετάEd Mar 4 '14 at 16:50

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