One of the senses of the verb take is:

to undertake and make, do, or perform.

  • take a walk
  • take aim
  • take legal action
  • take a test
  • take a look

[sense 17a, Merriam-Webster]

It is an idiomatic usage. Some common examples are, as shown above, take a walk and take a look. How did the verb "take" develop this sense?

This would also explain why people say "take a dump" rather than "give a dump". To the porcelain gods, perhaps.

  • "Some ppl take a sht, some ppl give a sht", as they say.
    – user486022
    Aug 23 at 1:26
  • One of the senses of the verb take is "to undertake and make, do, or perform" (See the sense 17a in MW). It is just an idiomatic usage. Some other familiar examples are take a walk and take a look. The more interesting question could be "How did the verb "take" develop this sense?".
    – ermanen
    Aug 23 at 5:05
  • 1
    See also What does take the disguise of a mean? This usage is delexical (semantically bleached). Aug 23 at 11:49
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    That sounds like another answer
    – user486022
    Aug 23 at 13:20
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    @JohnLawler Which isn't to say you can't trace the construction historically, and see that it's been around for at least 1000 years, and also recognize variants like He took to laughing and couldn't stop. It's more like a spiral tie-dye than a bleaching :-) Aug 23 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


OED mentions that the sense "to make, do, perform (an act, action, movement, etc.); to carry out." of the verb take is a periphrastic usage and the earliest citation for this sense is from c1380:

Often take forms with the object a phrase which is a periphrastic equivalent of the cognate verb: e.g. to take a leap is equivalent to to leap, to take a look to to look, to take one's departure to to depart, etc.

Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “take, v., sense IX.83.a”, July 2023. https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/8480914419

And for the etymology, OED says that the French verb prendre may have influenced the development of additional senses of the verb take:

French prendre to take (see prend v.) is attested in a similar range of senses, some of which appear to have influenced the semantic development of the English verb.

take v. also occurs in a large number of idiomatic phrases which correspond to (and in many cases are influenced by) parallel constructions in French with prendre. For further discussion see L. Iglesias-Rábade in D. A. Trotter Multilingualism in Later Medieval Brit. (2000) 93–130.

Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “take, v., Etymology”, July 2023. https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/4265677235

Note: Prend is an obsolete, rare verb in English meaning "To take; (also) to understand, comprehend." from 1447, per OED.

I'll try to check the given source in OED or other sources, and add any additional findings.

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