synonyms, antonyms, definitions, examples & translations of undertake in English

English Online Dictionary. What means undertake‎? What does undertake mean?


Alternative forms

  • undirtake (obsolete)


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


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ʌndəˈteɪk/
  • 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.).
    • 1674, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 2, lines 417-420,[1]
      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.).
    • c. 1590, William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 3, Act III, Scene 3,[2]
      [] if King Lewis vouchsafe to furnish us
      With some few bands of chosen soldiers,
      I’ll undertake to land them on our coast
      And force the tyrant from his seat by war.
  3. (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.
    • c. 1390s, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue, lines 289-291,[3]
      As leene was his hors as is a rake,
      And he nas nat right fat, I undertake,
      But looked holwe and therto sobrely.
    • c. 1591, William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1, Act V, Scene 3,[4]
      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,[5]
      [] 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.
  6. (obsolete) To assume, as a character; to take on.
    • c. 1595, William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I, Scene 2,[6]
      Quince. [] you must needs play Pyramus.
      Bottom. Well, I will undertake it.
  7. (obsolete) To engage with; to attack, take on in a fight.
    • c. 1609, William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act II, Scene 1,[7]
      It is not fit your lordship should undertake every companion that you give offence to.
  8. (obsolete) To have knowledge of; to hear.
    • 1596, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book 5, Canto 3, Stanza 34, London: George Allen, 1896, p. 1098,[8]
      Ne he his mouth would open unto wight,
      Untill that Guyon selfe unto him spake,
      And called Brigadore, (so was he hight,)
      Whose voice so soone as he did undertake,
      Eftsoones he stood as still as any stake,
  9. (obsolete) To have or take charge of.
    • c. 1390s, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Physician’s Tale, lines 81-82, The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Bell & Daldy, 1866, Volume 3, p. 78,[9]
      [] therfore, for Cristes sake,
      Kepeth wel tho that ye undertake.
    • c. 1612, William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, Henry VIII, Act II, Scene 1,[10]
      To the water side I must conduct your grace;
      Then give my charge up to Sir Nicholas Vaux,
      Who undertakes you to your end.

Usage notes

  • Sense: To commit oneself. This is a catenative verb that takes the to infinitive.
  • See Appendix:English catenative verbs

Derived terms

  • undertaker
  • undertaking


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