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From Middle English undertaken, equivalent to under- +‎ take (after undernim).



undertake (third-person singular simple present undertakes, present participle undertaking, simple past undertook, past participle undertaken)

  1. (transitive) To take upon oneself; to start, to embark on (a specific task etc.).
    • John Milton (1608-1674)
      To second, or oppose, or undertake / The perilous attempt.
  2. (intransitive) To commit oneself (to an obligation, activity etc.).
    He undertook to exercise more in future.
  3. (informal) To overtake on the wrong side.
    I hate people who try and undertake on the motorway.
  4. (archaic, intransitive) To pledge; to assert, assure; to dare say.
    • 1485, Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, Bk.VII:
      "I have now aspyed one knyght," he seyde, "that woll play hys play at the justys, I undirtake."
    • William Shakespeare (c.1564–1616)
      And those two counties I will undertake / Your grace shall well and quietly enjoiy.
    • John Dryden (1631-1700)
      And he was not right fat, I undertake.
    • John Woodward (1665-1728)
      I dare undertake they will not lose their labour.
  5. (obsolete, transitive) To take by trickery; to trap, to seize upon.
    • 1485, Sir Thomas Malory, chapter xxxvij, in Le Morte Darthur, book IX:
      there came fourty knyghtes to sire Darras / [] / and they wold haue slayne sire Tristram and his two felawes / but sire Darras wold not suffre that but kepte them in pryson / [] / So sire Tristram endured there grete payne / for sekenesse had vndertake hym / and that is the grettest payne a prysoner maye haue
  6. (obsolete) To assume, as a character; to take on.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Shakespeare to this entry?)
  7. (obsolete) To engage with; to attack.
    • William Shakespeare (c.1564–1616)
      It is not fit your lordship should undertake every companion that you give offence to.
  8. (obsolete) To have knowledge of; to hear.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Spenser to this entry?)
  9. (obsolete) To have or take charge of.

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