Submitted by Hairy Scot  •  October 31, 2012

“make a decision” or “take a decision”

Does one make a decision or take a decision? I favour the former but the latter seems to be gaining popularity, especially with politicians.

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One would "take a decision"...

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According to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, both are fine, but it suggests "take a decision" is BrE.

http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dic...

Ngram, rather surprisingly I thought (I personally "take a decision"), shows "make" well in the lead in published books in both AmE and BrE, but the difference is considerably larger in AmE.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=ta...

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I have personally in my fifty-one years of living in Seattle, NEVER heard the phrase 'take a decision'. I have always said/heard "I made the decision to....." or "I decided", never "I took a decision."

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@cheyenne - that doesn't sound too surprising as, according to Wiktionary, "make" is about 50 times more common in the US; (but only) 7 times in the UK, so it sounds as though it's definitely a British thing, but one which some people think is inveigling its way into American usage, and not to their liking, apparently.

A certain Emily Wolfe wrote to the New York Times that ''Commentators, politicians and, most recently, a Harvard economist on ABC News are now referring to decisions being >taken rather than >made. Have you noticed people are taking more decisions? It sounds extremely affected to me.'' The NYT follow this up with some examples from the American press, but note that most of the sources were in fact foreign

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Collocat...
http://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/16/magazine/on-l...

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I'm an American student (native English speaker), and I've never heard "take a decision before."

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I thought it was to do with the number of people involved.

The Managing Director made the decision to …
The Board of Directors took the decision to …

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I'm British and have never heard of taking a decision. Nor have I heard of taking a choice.

'Have you made your decision?' Sounds much more natural to me than 'Have you taken your decision?'

I'm almost certain the use of 'take' here is incorrect. Perhaps I'm wrong but I would never use the word take in this circumstance.

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Oxford Advanced Learner's, Macmillan's and Longman's dictionaries (all BrE) all give examples of "decision" with "take", Longman's specifying that take a decision "=make an important decision, especially after considering carefully".

At Just the Word, which finds collocations based on the British National Corpus, there are 3019 instances of "make" compared to 1131 for "take", so I agree "make" is much more common, but "take" also has quite a presence. If you look at these examples from the BNC, you'll see they're mainly about politics, business etc (weighty matters!):

http://www.just-the-word.com/show_examples.pl?t...

on the other hand you probably wouldn't "take" a snap decicision; all the examples of "snap decision" in the BNC appear to be with "make".

Try a site search at a British newspaper by Googling:
"took the decision" site:www.guardian.co.uk
or other papers and you''ll find plenty of examples (although more in some than others):

The Guardian 18,200
The Independent 3,280
The Times 383
Daily Telegraph 5,590
The Economist 213
Daily Mail 1,110
The Sun 484 (not so many weighty topics?)
The Mirror 585
Daily Express 7,240

As for "take a choice", that's a different story. It certainly doesn't show up in Just the Word, but there are some examples around if you Google, for example, "a difficult choice to take". (but a lot of it is just "noise")

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I have often heard the phrase "take a decision" spoken by non-native English speakers

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@Kay K - some might disagree, but I think Brits count as native speakers. :))

Seriously though, I think it is taught as a standard collocation in British-published course books, especially those for Business English. Which is a little strange, as even in BrE, "make a decision" is more common. I think I might belong to the "take" school, but I don't know why (perhaps it's because I'm an EFL teacher and have picked it up from there).

There's another point - in some languages, like French and Spanish, the standard verb is "take" - prendre une décision, tomar una decisión.

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@Myself - "I'm almost certain the use of 'take' here is incorrect."

I would like to retract that statement if I may?!

After posting this comment I looked in to this further and their are plenty of examples of 'take a decision' being used in some very reliable sources. However, a part of me is still insistent that 'make' sounds much more natural/oral/native, so much so that I would probably have previously corrected a student for <i>making</i> such an error ;)

I happily admit I was wrong to make such a rash statement but my feeling still remains the same.

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@James C - Bravo. :) But naturally, we should all continue with whatever feels most comfortable (I'm really not sure which I use, or even if I'm consistent).

And you're in good company, by the way. An editor and professor of English admitted recently that for twenty years or so she has been marking students and writers wrong for writing "on the other hand" without a corresponding "On the one hand", and has just realised she's been wrong all along. (It turns out that we use "on the other hand" far more often without than with).

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4573

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In spanish we say "take a decision" as well. Spoken: "toma una decisión" -the taking of a decision out of the possible alternatives, it makes sense.

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My mother tongue is French but I've always lived in a French-English environment. In English I've always heard and used 'make a decision'. It is true that in French we use the expression: 'prendre (take) une décision'. Personally, I would never rely on newspaper articles wherein numerous grammatical errors can be found.

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@Loumi- " Personally, I would never rely on newspaper articles wherein numerous grammatical errors can be found."

Well, instances of "take" are certainly quite numerous. Google site searches today:

The Guardian - "made the decision" - 57,800 - "took the decision" - 16,000 (28% take).
The Independent - 7830 to 3060 - (39% take)
The Daily Telegraph - 11,000 to 5990 (54% take)

These percentages, found in the quality press, sound to me to be rather high simply to be "grammatical errors" (if using the "wrong" verb is indeed a grammatical error).

And does the same go for dictionaries?

http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dic...
http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/b...
http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/decision

And language used in parliamentary reports and academic works:

https://www.google.com/search?q=%22took%20the%20decision%22&tbs=bks:1&lr=lang_en

The onus really is on the doubters to prove that "take a decision" (in British English) is somehow wrong.

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@WW
As I said in my opening post, I favour "make a decision", but I don't think "take a decision" is wrong. It just sounds a little unnatural to me.
I'd never heard it used during my 35 years in Scotland. First time I heard it was in South Africa during a meeting of IT types where it cropped up along with a lot of "management speak". That alone was enough to raise my suspicions.
Of course, as is the norm with these things, once it's registered it seems to keep popping up more and more frequently.

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@Warsaw Will and
@Hairy Scot
English in the British Commonwealth (also used in Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, etc. has adopted the French spelling of many words (Ex.: Manoeuvre as opposed to US 'maneuver' It would explain the use (although by a minority) of 'take a decision' (FR: prendre une décision). However, in Canada (maybe because of our proximity to the US) the common expression is 'make a decision' even though English spelling thought in schools is British: labour, honour, neighbours, etc. It is very easy to get confused between the British and US spellings. This forum is very helpful and we can learn every day.

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Peace breaks out all round :))

@Loumi - As you're in Canada, I'm not surprised you haven't heard it, as this seems to be a purely British English (including parts of the Commonwealth) thing, and yes, a minority use (though that minority is quite substantial, and as far as I can assess, well educated).

@Hairy Scot - yes it's certainly used in business, but even more in politics and also in academic writing, I think. As I said before, I think it tends to be used more for important and weighty decisions.

Some interesting data from Ngram (for published books). Neither seem to have been used much before 1900, but while in the US, "make a decision" had taken an early lead, in Britain, there wasn't much in it before then. There are plenty of examples of "took the decision" from the 19th century in Google books (mainly British).

https://www.google.com/search?q=%22took%20the%20decision%22&tbs=bks:1,cdr:1,cd_min:1789,cd_max:1871&lr=lang_en

From about 1920, use of both increased, with the ratio seeming fairly constant at 3:1 in British books. (red and blue for US books, green and orange for British books.)

1780 - 1900 http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=to...

1900-2008 http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=to...

But the surprising thing is a huge peak for "took the decision" in American English around 1776. That's why I had to start it in 1780, to avoid distortion. Disappointingly, I can find no reason for this peak.

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