I need some help! I've found this sentence in my CAE book. There was a word missing, I wrote "took". My answer was correct. In my opinion John needed a lot of courage to sing that time. However, the answer key says that the answer is "took" because it's a collocation.

"John remembers that it took quite a lot of courage to sing in public for the first time."

I've looked for the collocation in Macmillan's dictionary and I've found this.

"take courage from something: to feel more confident and hopeful because of something We can take courage from his success"

I think that this is not the correct collocation... Could anyone explain to me if I was right or wrong and why?

Thank you!

  • 1
    The correct collocation is "it takes courage to". "to take courage from" is a different one. More generally, "It takes (N) to..." is interpreted as "(N) is required for..."
    – Amadan
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:33
  • I think that's worth an answer, Amadan: it's not easily found in reference works. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 9:37
  • When one says "take courage from" or "take courage in" that is a sort of idiom that I suppose one might call a "collocation" (if you require a sesquipedalian word for it). But "It took courage to..." is just a plain old sentence -- nothing remarkable.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 13:23
  • The idiomatic take courage is irrelevant to the context and does not come in to cause any ambiguity here. The object of take is different. One taking courage is one thing (the idiom), it taking (some) courage is quite a different thing. The OP's sentence is fine as it is.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


John remembers that it took quite a lot of courage to sing in public for the first time.

This question isn't about the relationship between take and courage. There's no special idiom or collocation involving these two words. What we have is a type of construction:

  • It takes X 'to Y'.

The meaning is something along the lines of It required X to achieve Y. This is the same construction we use for explaining how much time something took:

  • It took two hours to get to work this morning!

The construction is quite interesting, in that the semantic subject has been replaced by "it" and pushed to the end of the sentence. Consider this sentence:

  • To sing in public for the first time took quite a lot of courage.

This sentence is a tiny bit stilted in English. It's perfectly grammatical though. Here we have a Verb Phrase To sing in public for the first time which is functioning as Subject. Took, of course is the Predicator, or verb, and quite a lot of courage, a Noun Phrase, is functioning as Direct Object.

In English we aren't very keen on having infinitive constructions as Subjects, especially very long infinitive constructions. So what we can do to fix this, is insert a dummy subject it, and move the infinitive to the end of the sentence:

  • It took quite a lot of courage to sing in public for the first time.

Here are some more example sentences:

  • It took 18,000 bricks to build this house.
  • It took five firemen to rescue the kitten.
  • It took a bottle of Bolinger and a three course meal in a fancy restaurant to seal the deal.
  • It took me half an hour to write this post!
  • Take courage definitely is a collocation or idiom, at least where Courage Breweries are known. See an advertisement on the railway near London Bridge which is a pun.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 14:13
  • @AndrewLeach Yes, quite so :) Different meaning though! That's more like the take courage from or take courage in that Hotlicks talks about in her comment under the OP's question. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 15:13
  • Araucaria: So much for a literal use of take in a plain English sentence. Just read the line the way it is and the meaning should be clear enough.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 15:32

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