“Make a decision” or “Take a decision” - My Language Hub Ltd.

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18 April 2020
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“Make a decision” or “Take a decision”…

… that is the question

As a non-English native speaker, I learned that in English you say make a decision, instead of take a decision, which would be the natural choice for a Spanish speaker like me. This is also the choice for speakers of Swedish and other Latin languages such as Italian, French and Portuguese, due to language interference.

As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language now, I have spent over 20 years teaching that make a decision is the correct collocation, and correcting students who would say otherwise.

During the Coronavirus outbreak, I have watched the news on a daily basis. I haven’t missed a single press conference! Something that has struck and puzzled me was politicians and government officials saying, ‘we have taken the decision…’

Oh! I haven’t mentioned that I live in the UK, so, naturally, I am referring to British politicians…

One evening, I asked my husband, who is an English native speaker, ‘Is it make or take a decision?’ He thought, and after a few times of repeating it out loud, he said, ‘it’s to make a decision’.

So, why is it that I keep hearing politicians and government officials say “take a decision”? At first, I thought, ‘It must be “politicianese”‘ (I’m being creative here 😉), meaning the way politicians speak, trying to impress the public … But then I noticed that both expressions are used in relation to government officials. I’ve paid closer attention and realised there is a slight difference in meaning.

Let’s see some examples:

  1. “… it is another big and defining decision for the PM to take.” (BBC News)
  2. “Dominic Raab says there could be a ‘transition’ out of lockdown. He says the Government has been “very clear that it will take the right decisions …” (The Telegraph)
  3. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said it was “completely untrue” that the foreign secretary was dragging his feet on taking critical decisions over lifting restrictions while he deputises for the prime minister.” (The Independent)
  4. Keir Starmer has been criticised by Grant Shapps and Nicola Sturgeon for claiming the Government is unable to take big decisions while Boris Johnson recovers from the coronavirus. (Politics Home)
  1. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had “all the authority” he needed to make relevant decisions, as he deputised for Boris Johnson while he was in hospital with coronavirus.” (BBC News)
  2. “We’ve all been pleased to see that he’s come out and is feeling better. And it feels as though they’ve been in a position […] where it’s been difficult for the Government to make big decisions. And I think there’s a bit of that lying behind this as well.” (Politics Home)
  3. “But that was rejected by Mr Shapps, who insisted the Government was continuing to make decisions in Mr Johnson’s absence.” (Politics Home)
  4. Matt Hancock says Covid-19 outbreak could force UK to shut down cities … “Clinicians have to make decisions about what is the most important and effective use of NHS resources.” (The Guardian)

This was really puzzling me, so I decided to do a bit of research and look into this collocation. Is it “to make a decision”, or “to take a decision”?

What is a collocation?

In grammatical terms, a collocation is defined as the combination of words formed when two or more words are often used together in a way that sounds correct. In layman’s terms, this is a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase, in a way that sounds correct to people who have spoken the language all their lives. For example, we say:

black and white (instead of ❌ “white and black”)
ask a question (and not ❌ “make a question”)

In this sense, we can say that the noun “decision” collocates with the verb “make”.

“Make” a decision or “Take” a decision?

I searched in grammar books and on various articles and bogs online, and I finally arrived at the following conclusion.

While the core meaning of both expressions are the same, the examples above show there is a slight difference in meaning.

It’s more common to hear make a decision, which can refer to

  1. the actual moment where a course of action is chosen (and just that moment),
  2. the whole process leading up to it, where one might undertake research, have discussions, think and so on, in order to prepare oneself for the decision itself .

The phrase take a decision, on the other hand, refers to the decisive moment itself, and not to the process leading up to it. It has more formal connotation, and an implication that the decision will have serious consequences, and that the person deciding is responsible for them. It has a sense of finality about it.

Examples 1-4 above illustrate the use of make a decision, whereas 5-8 illustrate the former, which is also reflected in the phrase decision-making process.

Some argue that this is only a regional variation, i.e., UK vs. US English; however, we could discuss this in a future blog.

Make a decision or Take a decision
“Make a decision” or “Take a decision”?

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