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". Feb 18, 2012 at 18:12
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    This sounds like peeving.
    – user10893
    Feb 18, 2012 at 18:43
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    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, 2013 at 7:10
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    Hmmm. You meant Northern Indian students, didn't you? 😋 Nov 1, 2016 at 4:02
  • @Mari-LouA: it's incorrect when you say "There are three verbs which we use" without qualifying what 'we' refers to. That's only true for British/American/Australian English; but not for Indian English, where this usage is common. The OP already stated in the question that the usage is common in (North) Indian English.
    – smci
    Jun 16, 2019 at 19:34

6 Answers 6


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, 2012 at 18:30
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    That's true; it would mean to collect the exam papers from the students at the end of the examination. If it meant anything. Feb 18, 2012 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, 2012 at 11:27
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    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. Feb 19, 2012 at 17:38
  • In many varieties of English, the give/take thing is the same.
    – Lambie
    Jun 17, 2019 at 1:02

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.

  • usage by students: "give an exam" to describe the act of writing the answers to the questions.
    – Thale
    Feb 18, 2012 at 18:24
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    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, 2012 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, 2012 at 18:39
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    @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. Feb 18, 2012 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. Feb 19, 2012 at 2:26

When you say that you are "taking" an exam, it means that you are going to be writing one. In other words, you are going to be a candidate, an examinee. When you say that you are going to be "giving" an exam, it means that you are going to give someone else an exam; you are the examiner. You are probably a teacher and you are going to give your students an exam. In India, this distinction is not always maintained.

  • Well, you seem to be Indian. Are you? If you are, your comment would be the most informed. Why don't you comment on the OP's usage for us?
    – Lambie
    Jun 17, 2019 at 1:01

No I guess ,it should be "take an exam". Students "take a test/exam", whereas a teacher/examiner gives an exam . This is quite common in India,and this is what would usually be used in India,but what we always say doesn't always mean that's the way they are spoken by the natives. Even my teacher says: You're going to give an test tomorrow.(though we as students are supposed to take the test and not give one;))


it is generally said that there is nothing wrong or right in language. But we have to somewhere follow the standard of that particular language. so taking exam is the job of a student and giving exam is the job of a teacher......

  • Sanjay, are you describing the usage in northern India or southern India? Do you have any evidence to support your position in relation to the standard form in Indian English? Jan 20, 2019 at 14:49
  • i mean to say that we should follow the native speakers..that's all Jan 21, 2019 at 16:45

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". Mar 4, 2014 at 12:58
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    Mar 4, 2014 at 16:50

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