Once we have the functional mechanics down, we’ll customize the display of fields using properties and then using richer data templates for the edit, add, and display modes.

This sentence is extracted from a tech book titled 'Silverlight 4 in action'.

3 Answers 3


I disagree with @wfaulk. It's not "the exact same thing." To "have something down" means to know it. To "have something down pat" is to know it perfectly, as @FumbleFingers points out, though he balks at giving any explanation of the former expression, which is in wide use (at least in the USA).

There is a difference, depending on the tolerances involved in the domain, but I would take "having something down" to mean being able to do a thing merely to a reasonable degree, not flawlessly. At least the meaning may descend to that level; you could mean you know something perfectly, but you could also mean you simply know enough about it to pass some essential requirements.

  • I'm not sure I "balked" at explaining the full expression. Because of the way OP phrased his question I kinda forgot it would be helpful to explain the meaning of "pat" here. Before seeing @John's comment I just assumed it was obvious that not including that word simply dropped the implied "perfectly". Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 16:41
  • You are, of course, welcome to disagree, but, in my experience, "having something down" means being able to do it as second nature. It might honestly be even more forceful than "down pat".
    – wfaulk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 20:53
  • That said, it was a poor answer. (I think I got distracted in the middle of it.) I've updated it. Thanks for calling me out.
    – wfaulk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 21:08
  • @wfaulk: I stand to be corrected, as ever, but I'd have thought have down pat/do off pat came first. Maybe some people dropped the "pat" just because they didn't understand its semantic contribution, but it's hard to see how anyone could think this would make the expression convey a deeperr understanding. Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 21:15
  • @FumbleFingers: Language is an impediment to understanding after all. ;) I agree that "down pat" almost certainly came first, and that without the "pat" is probably just an elision. However, my experience with recent usage is that without the "pat" is more forceful. There's also usually a strong spoken emphasis on "down" in those instances. I kind of expect that it came about by eliding "pat", but has come to be a superlative of simple "got".
    – wfaulk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 21:37

To have [something] down pat means to have understood or memorised it perfectly. It's generally used in a rote-learning context, rather than one of the subtasks within a software project.

I suppose some people might use the expression without the word "pat". I'm not familiar with that usage - but it sounds like to have something done (i.e. completed), so that's how I'd interpret it.

LATER: The word pat itself has a wide range of meanings, including exactly or fluently memorized or mastered, as in "He recited it [off] pat". It seems reasonable to suppose the usage have [something] down without "pat" is simply a "watered-down" version of the full form, that avoids explicitly alluding to the complete,perfect connotations of that word.

  • To have something down means to understand it, or know the material. It doesn't need to be perfectly (i.e. to have something down pat), but to understand what is happening. When you learn to ride a bike, you have riding a bike down.
    – John M.
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 16:05
  • @John: Well I did expect there'd be people who do speak of "having sth down". OP's example is from a tutorial, so it's a moot point whether my "done" interpretation differs from your definition. But I realise I didn't specifically cover the significance of the missing "pat", so I'll edit for that. Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 16:20

I would argue that the two phrases have mostly the same meaning.

That said, I would say that "down pat" more implies something memorized as rote, and would not be used with a more abstract thing, where just "down" might be.

"I've got the Declaration of Independence down pat." — fine.

"I've got the Declaration of Independence down." — fine, if a little odd.

"I've got the General Theory of Relativity down." — fine.

"I've got the General Theory of Relativity down pat." — quite weird

Also, I might argue that "down" without the "pat" might be more forceful than with. I've used it to mean a full and complete understanding, where as something that is "down pat" is merely memorized.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.