Alternative formsEdit


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.).
    • 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.).
    He undertook to exercise more in future.
    • 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.
    • 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
  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.
    • 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.

Usage notesEdit

Derived termsEdit