Choices - taken or made?
January 11, 2009 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Should I "take" or "make" a decision?

Grammar question: In Australia, I've noticed that it is becoming more common for people to "take" a decision, rather than "make" a decision. I had never heard this form used before about two years ago, now it seems the norm, particularly among politicians and on the ABC (National broadcaster). I first noticed Liberal pollies using it, Howard, Downer et al.

I want to know whether one is more correct, but I have to admit to being reluctant to use "take" because it seems so passive to me. When I make a choice, I MAKE a decision. Unless I'm wrong... in that case I may take the decision to change the way I express choices.

So a few questions: Have decisions always been taken rather than made, and I just failed to notice, or has there really been an increase in the British useage?
posted by lottie to Education (31 answers total)
This sounds about right to me. In the USA and Canada, one never hears "take" in any context, but of course it's the Latin source, so in more formal/legal/British language it makes more sense.
posted by rokusan at 6:41 PM on January 11, 2009

I've always read/seen/heard that one makes a decision, not takes it.
posted by balls at 6:43 PM on January 11, 2009

Do you take a sh*t or make a sh*t? Follow whatever logic you use there for the decisions.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:52 PM on January 11, 2009

Response by poster: See, now that would seem obvious, right JohnnyGunn? Except that a lot of highly educated people are saying "take" in these parts.

Is there an increase in this useage?
posted by lottie at 7:03 PM on January 11, 2009

You make a decision, and then take the actions necessary. "Take" just sounds odd to me.
posted by andraste at 7:03 PM on January 11, 2009

In an old (1989) On Language article, Safire reviews this same question. It's an interesting read, which, on the balance, seems to suggest that "take a decision" is the British equivalent of "make a decision" (though the Britishism is creeping into American use as well).
posted by Pontius Pilate at 7:11 PM on January 11, 2009

Response by poster: In that case, is the consensus that the increase in "take" useage is an affectation?
posted by lottie at 7:13 PM on January 11, 2009

In the romance languages, you typically "take" a decision. In English, I've never heard anything but "make".
posted by Netzapper at 7:15 PM on January 11, 2009

In Ontario, we take sh*ts and make descisions.

...without exception.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:26 PM on January 11, 2009

...but we can't spell.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:27 PM on January 11, 2009

In Mandarin, it's make a decision. 作决定。 作 (zuò) to do/to make 决定 (jué dìng) decision/to decide (to do something).

In the NE U.S., I've always made decisions as well.
posted by xiaolongbao at 7:45 PM on January 11, 2009

In Quebec, you often hear 'take a decision' in English, and it drives me insane!! Coming from elsewhere in Canada, only 'make' is ok. Here, they say it on the local newscasts! I feel it's the influence of French (as mentioned above, it's correct to take a decision in romance languages).
posted by MissSquare at 7:49 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I first noticed Liberal pollies using it, Howard, Downer et al

Stop. Think. You're wondering whether you want to sound even vaguely like Alexander Downer.

Get a grip. Breathe. You'll be OK in a minute.
posted by flabdablet at 8:01 PM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've only ever heard "make a decision", but thinking about it made me wonder whether "take a decision" refers to the person saying it meaning that the decision's actually been made by someone else (or collectively by many).

Resisting urge to say that Downer / Howard prefer to "take it"....
posted by MatJ at 8:28 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Althought I've heard it used for years, I can't say I've particularly noticed it becoming more common here in Aus. I always assumed it was "power talking", i.e. loaded with the inference that any old fool can "make" a decision, but it takes a dynamic, pro-active, go-getter to "take" a decision.

As a turn of phrase, it seems to particularly affect political and management types.
posted by Pinback at 8:41 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh god... no desire to sound like Alexander Downer, but will admit to feeling as though they may know something I don't when it comes to these matters. It's a feeling I hope to shake immediately, but not to the extent of speaking like Julia Gillard.

I've always read "take" a desicion as, perhaps, false timidity. As though politicians are intimating that they arrived at a decision with the utmost consideration and caution.
posted by lottie at 8:56 PM on January 11, 2009

In the USA, we make decisions, never take them. When I lived in the UK, though, they took decisions. Well, newscasters and maybe journalists reported of decisions being taken, at least. It was notable and stood out as distinct from American usage. I don't remember non-media people saying it, however, and have heard reports from native Brit speakers that they did not say take. So perhaps the vector to Oz was the world of news media, then spread from there.

I wouldn't worry about correctness since the only real standard is usage wherever you are. See aluminum vs. aluminium, for example. Just say what comes most naturally, which sounds like make in your case.
posted by Askr at 9:58 PM on January 11, 2009

Actually, as some have mentioned above, I could see a shading between "make" and "take". "Make" would be the standard, "I <personally> made a decision to order risotto." "Take" would then be a communal, "We <as a committee> took a decision to allocate $50M to combat illiteracy."

But, this would be an affectation on the part of the speaker. The only way you're going to be taking a decision naturally is if you're a native speaker of a non-English (probably Romance) language.

(Also, we take a shit here in the US. A small child, however, might "make poopoo".)
posted by Netzapper at 10:11 PM on January 11, 2009

I've always understood "take a decision" to be a British-ism. If it's in fact becoming more common in Oz, I wonder if that reflects Australians desiring to sound "less American", or simply identifying less with US culture, due to the declining reputation of the US.

Oh, and any attempt to distinguish separate meanings for "make a decision" and "take a decision" seems to me to be bad "folk linguistics"; the meanings are the same.
posted by orthogonality at 10:27 PM on January 11, 2009

I agree that it is probably a Britishism, or at worst an attempt to sound more learned, like that irritating habit some people have of pronouncing the T in often, but only when they want to sound smart. This drives me insane.
posted by rokusan at 11:07 PM on January 11, 2009

This is an odd one.

Present tense: I normally hear "make a decision".
Past tense: "He took the decision to..." or "He made the right decision".
posted by devnull at 12:00 AM on January 12, 2009

I don't why everyone thinks this is some sort of British usage. I'm British and can honestly say I've never heard someone "take a decision" ever. Doing a quick Google search on for "take a decision" does turn up 1000 odd results, against 7000 odd for "make", so I guess some people are saying it. But everyday usage? I don't think so.
posted by iivix at 1:35 AM on January 12, 2009

I've never heard "take a decision." I'm an American but I do read a lot of Brit Lit and I've never even read the expression "take a decision." Odd.
posted by fantine at 2:28 AM on January 12, 2009

Yep, Briticism. Never encountered it before I moved over. You can "take" a meeting as well, while you're at it.

I wonder if it's a genuine hangover from French or Continental languages, or a Victorian affectation that's still with us? (like using "aubergine" because it sounded posher than the old fashioned "eggplant")

Lots of business lingo is different here - even if the expression is the same, the meaning can be different ("to table" an item at a meeting, for example)

It's new in Australia? I wonder if it's down to the British expats in places like Sydney and Melbourne?
posted by Grrlscout at 3:32 AM on January 12, 2009

Fantine, I'm in finance - in Leeds, at least, roughly 3/4 of the time, they take a meeting.
posted by Grrlscout at 3:34 AM on January 12, 2009

Oh, sorry, and a decision! Need more caffeine, obviously!
posted by Grrlscout at 3:35 AM on January 12, 2009

Oh god... no desire to sound like Alexander Downer, but will admit to feeling as though they may know something I don't

Repeat after me: There is nothing Alexander Downer knows that is of any value to me. There is nothing Alexander Downer knows that is of any value to me. There is nothing Alexander Downer knows that is of any value to me.

Keep breathing. You're nearly there.

And bear in mind that it could easily have been much, much worse. Imagine if the troublesome phrase had come out of the mouth of Peter Reith.
posted by flabdablet at 3:38 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Never hear that before in my life. Does it only happen when the word "decision" could be replaced with "action"?
posted by gjc at 5:25 AM on January 12, 2009

I think it's a politicalism, your false timidity sounds right on the mark. I live in perth. My mother is english, very english and I've never heard of this before.
posted by Submiqent at 7:21 AM on January 12, 2009

I work in the technology industry, where a great many of my peers are educated in India where British English is at the root of local English. Many of the Indians "take" decisions. Everyone else makes them.

I personally hadn't realized this was a Britishism and had been assuming it was Indian dialect, since I've never heard a Brit try to "take" a decision.
posted by majick at 7:54 AM on January 12, 2009

My partner says "take" a decision, but he's a native Dutch speaker. I have variously picked it up as well as criticised the usage.
posted by Goofyy at 9:39 AM on January 13, 2009

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