take a look at or look at
June 2, 2010 8:17 AM   Subscribe

I 'am learning English.How shall I use these two sentences differently," Take a look at A.", and " Look at A."?? For example,how different between "Take a look at everything that's contributing to your stress at the moment." or " Look at everything that's contributing to your stress at the moment."?And could you explain it with another examples?
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (24 answers total)
I don't think there's a literal difference. "Take a look at..." is a bit more informal, while "Look at..." seems like more of a command. But it's a slight difference.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:22 AM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Both "Take a look" and just "Look" are very, very similar. I think "Take a look" sometimes means "at some future time, not necessarily right now" where "Look" feels more immediate, like "Look -- right now -- at A."
But they are just as often used to mean the exact same thing, in my experience.
posted by chowflap at 8:22 AM on June 2, 2010

"Take a look at..." is often more emphatic, as in, "Wow. Will you just take a look at her clothes. Can you believe she wore that here?"
posted by Etrigan at 8:24 AM on June 2, 2010

"Take a look at" is like a mild suggestion whereas "Look at" is more like "You must do this now". Of course sometimes someone may use "Take a look at" when they want to SOUND informal when they actually do mean it to be a "you must do this now".
posted by amethysts at 8:25 AM on June 2, 2010

"Take a look at A" is more polite and less forceful. It is less direct and commanding.

Often "take a look at A" will be combined with other words to make the request even more polite. Often "look at A" will be combined with other words to make the request even more direct.

Here is an example: "The computer is acting weird. Could you please take a look at it?"

Compare that to: "The computer is acting weird. Just look at it!"
posted by jedicus at 8:26 AM on June 2, 2010

Yeah, like chowflap, I think if I *had* to come up with a difference, it would be future vs. present. If I said to someone "take a look at this book" it could mean "when you get a chance, pick this up and leaf through it," whereas if I say "look at this book" it's more likely that I'll pass it over to him right away and expect him to check it out. But this isn't a hard-and-fast rule; I probably violate it all the time. Because asking someone to do something at some point in the future is less specific, it could also be construed as more polite.

I think the only time there's really a difference is when it's part of a standard phrase. For example, "Take a look at yourself in the mirror" vs. "Look at yourself in the mirror" -- the first one is a phrase that basically means "You've done something bad and you need to re-evaluate" whereas the second one is something literal you tell a person who has something smeared on his face.
posted by pluckemin at 8:29 AM on June 2, 2010

"Take a look" is softer, "look" is more blunt.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2010

In my opinion, "Look at A" is a simple imperative, and does not suggest why I want you to look at A. "Take a look at A" suggests that I want you to comment on A, respond to A, or deal with A in some way.
posted by adamrice at 8:44 AM on June 2, 2010

"Take a look" may imply that you'll need to spend a little extra time looking, or look more closely.

Saying "I'm going to take a look at the shops" might mean that you'll be taking your time exploring. "I'm going to look at the shops," to me, might mean just standing near them or walking past.

(I think this works for jedicus' computer example and for pluckemin's mirror example as well.)
posted by alight at 8:45 AM on June 2, 2010

Many people would say that there is no difference. Some people might say that "Take a look" means something more like "analyze this in the context of something larger", but "look" means "perceive without necessarily looking at the big picture."
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:45 AM on June 2, 2010

There are a few different shades of meaning:

1. "Look at A" = "Use your eyes to look at something NOW." Example: "Look at that building over there -- it's on fire!" You probably wouldn't say "Take a look at that building," since it's an emergency. "Take a look at" would be too casual.

2. "Take a look at A" = "Look at [something] eventually (or: when you get around to it)." I like the example of "Take a look at this book." You might say this if you're recommending a book to a friend. (In contrast, a teacher would probably tell the students, "Look at Chapter 3," not "Take a look at Chapter 3.")

3. "Look at A" = "A is an example of what I am talking about." Example: "You can be very successful without graduating from college -- look at Bill Gates. He dropped out of college, and he's a billionaire." You would NOT want to say "Take a look at Bill Gates" -- unless Bill Gates actually just walked in the room!

The difference between #1 and #2 is very subtle. I wouldn't worry about it too much, since the meaning is very similar.

#3 is a special meaning of "look at." It's very different from #1 and #2, and it must be "look at," not "take a look at."
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:45 AM on June 2, 2010

nthing everyone above saving the difference is casual conversation versus a command.

Also, you might want to practice using spaces after punctuation. (periods, commas, exclamation marks, etc) It's easier to read and the standard.
posted by royalsong at 8:49 AM on June 2, 2010

'Look..' seems more appropriate in an emergency situation, when time is important, e.g. "Look at the sensor data !?! OMG". Also it can refer to something you can look at by turning your gaze or head, while "take a look" can be more appropriate when giving a folder with papers that you have to open and go through with some deliberation. There are many things like that.. for example, there's a set phrase "Well, look at you!" that doesn't mean to literally look at yourself, and could not be given as "Well, take a look at you!". As others mentioned, "Look.." is more informal, something you might say to a close friend while "Take a look.." is more appropriate with someone you just met or in a business setting (as well as with a close friend).

In general this is the kind of subtle and varied difference that you need to read a lot of books / see usage in movies, etc to get a good grasp of.
posted by rainy at 8:50 AM on June 2, 2010

Precise instructions seem more forceful and less polite than general ones. Soldiers, for example, are often given orders broken down into individual steps - "Eyes right!," "About face!," "Forward, march!" There's a similar difference between "Look at this object" and "Take a look at this object" The first one is very precise - literally "look" at the object, turn your eyes towards it and focus on it. The second is really a phrase that means "observe this object, examine it, consider it." It sounds more like a request than an instruction because it doesn't specify exactly what the other person should do.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2010

Best answer: "look at this" = focus your eyeballs on this
"take a look at this" = evaluate this
posted by jrishel at 9:04 AM on June 2, 2010 [10 favorites]

I have to agree with the people who say that it's just about informality, politeness and possibly suggesting that you it's not a command and more of a suggestion. "Take a look at" and "Have a look at" are slightly friendlier. "Look at" is more blunt and more forceful.

The difference between them isn't huge though. But I don't think the phrase "take a look at" would appear in presidential inauguration addresses or the Queen's Speech.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 9:24 AM on June 2, 2010

Agree with previous posters, but especially wanted to second Etrigan's usage. "Take a look at [that]!" is a common idiom that means something a little different that the usages mentioned by others. Basically "wow, this thing which is in our presence is unbelievable!"
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 9:36 AM on June 2, 2010

Here's something you didn't ask, but might want to know. The apostrophe ' often stands in for missing letters. So it's either I am or I'm, I can not or I can't.

Typically too, we put a space after the dot (the period) at the end of a sentence, and the spaces with "quotes" are on the outside of quotes, that is to say, before the first quote and after the last, eg, "like this" not" like this".

The word "shall" is a very good one, but rarely used nowadays, at least amongst the people I talk to. In the context of your question, I probably would have used the word "should" instead.
posted by b33j at 10:45 AM on June 2, 2010

So it's either I am or I'm, I can not or I can't.

Well, as long as we're getting picky about things that the OP didn't ask about, "I can not" is not the same as "I can't." You mean "I cannot" (no space).
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:58 AM on June 2, 2010

I don't think that 'Take a look' is informal. I think 'Take a Look' is softer.

Many people think that English, especially American English, is very blunt, and rude. But it has many phrases like this that help soften a command. If you want to be even softer you can say 'Please take a look' or 'would you mind taking a look.'

Other phrases are things like 'I think' -- "You have the wrong number" vs. "I think you have the wrong number." 'I think' makes it softer, less blunt.

In a written example, like yours, "Take a look at everything that's contributing to your stress at the moment," using softening phrases makes the writer more familiar, and closer to the reader. It is more friendly, but not necessarily informal. I think a bit like the idea of 内 and 外 in Japanese.
posted by Caravantea at 12:54 PM on June 2, 2010

I teach English to speakers of other languages, and jrishel's answer is exactly what I would tell my students.
posted by mdonley at 2:23 PM on June 2, 2010

I teach English, too, and jrishel's answer is pretty much perfect.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:28 PM on June 2, 2010

To add to jrishel's answer, I would say "take a look at A" could mean "evaluate A to diagnose or possibly fix the problem it currently has", whereas "look at A" could mean "observe the strange or humorous way that A is behaving".
posted by ambulocetus at 7:54 PM on June 2, 2010

Take a look - implies moving attention from the person speaking, looking at the indicated item, then returning to the speaker.

Look - implies putting your attention on the indicated thing and keeping it there while listening.
posted by KMH at 3:38 AM on June 3, 2010

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