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I was interested in the following sentence which appeared in an article titled “Building a Classier Image; Las Vegas Hotels Woo Blue Chip Visitors" by Andrew Pollak in The New York Times (November 13, 1997).

Risks abound in this strategy, though. Visitors may balk at high room rates if cheap ones are still plentiful, and giant hotels run the danger of becoming impersonal. Most important, though: Can Las Vegas absorb all these new rooms?

Can someone clarify if the phrase "run the danger" is improperly used, as I think it is?

I would replace "danger" with "risk", but I'm not sure on this correction because the phrase "run the danger" occurs on many occasions in The New York Times, it frequently occurs in others newspapers and, more generally, it has 365,000 hits on Google Search. So I am wondering if interchanging "danger" and "risk" in this phrase is in common usage nowadays, especially in spoken informal English; albeit it isn't idiomatically correct.

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I get 404k results for "run the danger" and 8.9 million results for "run the risk". –  Andrew Leach Jun 9 '12 at 13:39
@AndrewLeach Yes, but they are referred to only written English. However, I still think that "risk" and "danger" cannot be interchanged because these words are rather different in meaning. –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Jun 9 '12 at 13:54
@RégisRoux: 'the danger' and 'the risk' "rather different in meaning"? They sure share a lot though. –  Mitch Jun 9 '12 at 16:53
@Mitch: Both words have a spread of meaning, and those spreads overlap in OP's usage. But they have different idiomatic "grammar" even when they're semantically identical (you're at risk when you're in danger). In this case, the idiomatic association of run is stronger for risk - but both do occur, and are thus valid. But semantically equivalent, I believe. –  FumbleFingers Jun 9 '12 at 21:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As OP suspects, the standard "set phrase" is run the risk

enter image description here

I don't think there's any solid argument against run the danger - it's just not a form of words people normally use.

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I'm not completely satisfied, especially for the conclusion of your answer; but, I voted +1 as the graph is a nice work. Thank you @FumbleFingers –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Jun 9 '12 at 14:13
@Régis Roux: I don't quite follow. Do you mean you're looking for an explanation of why there's something incorrect about saying "run the danger", based on some semantic or grammatical difference between risk and danger? I'd be pretty sure no such explanation exists, since in toto, plenty of competent native speakers say/write the less common version. Bear in mind it's "idiomatic" to use the verb "to run" like this in the first place (I suspect it came via "run the gauntlet"), so both versions depend on being heard and repeated. Success breeds success, is all. –  FumbleFingers Jun 9 '12 at 14:52
I think your comment well explains the answer you posted. So, I'm going to accept. –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Jun 9 '12 at 15:01

The popular idiom is run the risk of; when risk is replaced by a synonym, it is no longer accepted in the idiomatic sense. This has been brought out in Nesselhauf's doctoral thesis on collocations, later published by John Benjamins.

"A treatment of an RC1 collocation, such as run the risk of, for example, seems most efficient if the learner is made aware that run in this sense only combines with risk, and that other combinations with similar nouns such as run the danger of or run the peril of are not possible or at least highly unusual.30"

30 Run the danger is sometimes used, but it is considerably less common than run the risk (11 occurrences in the BNC, as opposed to about 330 of run a risk, in a span of +/–6). It is also usually judged deviant by native speakers (4 native speakers were asked to judge the combination, all of whom considered it wrong or doubtful).
[Nadja Nesselhauf: Collocations in a Learner Corpus, 2005, John Benjamins.]

However, run the danger as a set phrase seems to have peaked around 1940:
enter image description here

1930: Were there no Loans Advisory Board with power to check borrowing, we should run the danger of having to face excessive credit demands by individual public bodies Banking: journal of the American Bankers Association - Volume 23 - Page 391
1936: ... a tract of open country where they would run the danger of being recognized and taken. The Spectator - Volume 156 - Page 932
1939: ... believe we built beyond our normal trade requirements, and unless we appraise our future with some degree of intelligence, do we not run the danger of a similar repetition? Bankers magazine - Volume 139 - Page 406

And continues to be in use, especially in journalistic writing, as is seen from the OP's citation from the NYT.

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