The Grammarphobia Blog

Take a decision, please!

Q: I would love to hear your views on whether one makes or takes a decision. Personally I hate the “take” form – it sounds like bureaucratic language that absolves the decision-MAKERS of responsibility. But I hear it more and more, especially in governmental and corporate discourse.

A: You are right. One makes a decision. The “take” version is seen a lot in the British Commonwealth, especially in India. But even British dictionaries seem to prefer “make a decision” over “take a decision.”

The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, has a dozen published references for “make a decision,” but only one for “take a decision” – a 1993 Newsweek article that quotes someone who’s backed into a corner and forced to decide: “I have to take a decision, even if they shoot me.”

The OED does, however, list references in the 1960s to “decision-takers,” “the decision-taking process,” “the decision-taking mechanism,” and this double-header, in which decisions are subject to both taking and making: “Decision theory is probing the psychology of decision making, and attempts to provide an algorism for taking decisions.”

The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (4th ed.), which reflects both British and American English, includes “make a decision,” but not “take a decision.”

William Safire, in an “On Language” column in the New York Times in 1989, noted the increased use of “take a decision” in the U.S. among politicians, commentators, bureaucrats, and academics. But he said the usage was seen more often in the British media (the BBC, The Economist, Reuters, and so on).

Since the Safire column appeared, the “take” usage has crept more and more into American English, especially the jargon spoken in government, business, and academia.

But the “make” expression is by far the more popular, both here and overseas. I googled both versions. The results? Nearly 2 million hits for “make a decision” and only 649,000 for “take a decision.”

My take on all this? Let’s make a decision.

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