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Alternative forms[edit]


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


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ʌndəˈteɪk/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪk


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.).
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book II”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], OCLC 228722708; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, OCLC 230729554, line 417-420:
      This said, he sat; and expectation held
      His look suspense, awaiting who appeared
      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. (Britain, informal) To pass a slower moving vehicle on the curbside rather than on the side closest to oncoming traffic.
    Antonym: overtake
  4. (archaic, intransitive) To pledge; to assert, assure; to dare say.
    • 1387–1400, Geoffrey Chaucer, “(please specify the story)”, in The Canterbury Tales, [Westminster: William Caxton, published 1478], OCLC 230972125; republished in [William Thynne], editor, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed, [], [London]: [] [Richard Grafton for] Iohn Reynes [], 1542, OCLC 932884868, line 289-291:
      As leene was his hors as is a rake,
      And he nas nat right fat, I undertake,
      But looked holwe and therto sobrely.
      (please add an English translation of this quote)
    • 1591, William Shakespeare, “The First Part of Henry the Sixt”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act V, scene iii]:
      That is her ransom; I deliver her;
      And those two counties I will undertake
      Your grace shall well and quietly enjoy.
    • 1695, John Woodward, An Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth and Terrestrial Bodies, London: Richard Wilkin, Part 4, pp. 222-223,[1]
      [] if those Persons who are curious in collecting either Minerals, or the Shells, Teeth, or other Parts of Animal Bodies that have been buried in the Earth, do but search the Hills after Rains, and the Sea-Shores after Storms, 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, “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
      (please add an English translation of this quote)
  6. (obsolete) To assume, as a character; to take on.
  7. (obsolete) To engage with; to attack, take on in a fight.
  8. (obsolete) To have knowledge of; to hear.
  9. (obsolete) To have or take charge of.

Usage notes[edit]

Derived terms[edit]