Is 'partake' an old fashioned word? Would it be proper to use it these days?

Thank you @tchrist,@JLG and @MT_Head. I found your answers interesting. By 'proper' I meant in current use. While writing, it was the first word that came to me when I wished to discuss the involvement of people in their economy. The sentence read - He realised that if people had to partake of their growing economy, families needed to be planned and healthy. A friend said, "no one uses the word these days. it is old fashioned." I wished to know more. @J.R. Thank you for introducing the Ngrams. The usage seems to be going up in the last few years after falling in the twentieth century.

  • It is used in today's Christian church services all the time: "partake of communion" or "partake in communion." How were you thinking of using it?
    – JLG
    Jul 1 '12 at 2:46
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    No, it isn’t. And what is proper?
    – tchrist
    Jul 1 '12 at 2:51
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    I think "participate in" would be a better fit in your example sentence. "Partake" can be used as a substitute for "take part in", as in your sentence, but it is more commonly used to mean "take part of", as in food or drink.
    – MT_Head
    Jul 2 '12 at 16:26

Beside its official use (generally in church services, as mentioned by @JLG), it is very commonly used facetiously - Do you partake? - to ask a new acquaintance whether s/he drinks or (even more commonly) smokes marijuana. Another way of asking this question is Do you party? - I have no idea whether one is derived from the other, and if so which came first.

This sort of question is usually asked in a joking, indirect way so that if the answer is "No", the asker can pretend that s/he was misunderstood. Plausible deniability in interpersonal relationships, if you will.

If you run into me socially, you don't need to ask me this question: yes, I would like a beer; no, I don't partake of the leaf.


This is one of those instances where one of those pesky Ngrams might be a little bit useful, as the usage of this particular word in published works is rather interesting, with some spikes, and a steady decline in the latter half of the 19th century:

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Searching through the more modern results (since 1980), it's apparent that the word is usually – though not exclusively – applied in the context of the Eucharist. Still, that doesn't make the word “improper” in more informal contexts.

As for the heavier usage of the word in the 1700s, there are two possible reasons for that: (a) the word was used more broadly, that is, applied in more varied contexts, during that period, or (b) there were more publications devoted to religious ceremonies during that timeframe, accounting for a higher use of the word. You're welcome to peruse the results yourself and form your own conclusion; it looks like maybe a little bit of both to me.

In any case, there's nothing “improper” about the word; perhaps you meant “old-fashioned”?

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