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The Phrasal Verb 'Take Down' Explained

Updated: Mar 1

An explanation of the different meanings of the English phrasal verb 'Take Down', with examples and exercises.

Someone writing something down in a pad with an orange pen

Hello and welcome to my website all about English phrasal verbs. Each week, I take a different phrasal verb and look at how it is used by native speakers, with a focus on the different meanings that it has and the expressions and idioms that it is used in.


In this post, we are looking at the English phrasal verb 'take down' and all of the different meanings that it has, as well some of its other applications, including its uses as a noun. You may already be familiar with some of its meanings, however I'm sure that one or two will be new to you. So, without further ado, let's get started....


TAKE DOWN: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

​Number of meanings

4

Separable

Yes

Past tense forms

Took down / Taken down

For more explanation of the terms in the table above, click here.

 

THE BASICS

The letters A-G spelled out different coloured plasticine on a red background

Before we examine the different uses of 'take down' as a phrasal verb, let's first of all break it down into its constituent parts, as this can often provide a bit of logic when applied to the seemingly illogical phrasal verb meanings.


Firstly we have the common English verb 'to take', which you will certainly be very familiar with as it is one of the ten most common verbs in the English language. The general idea behind the verb 'to take' is 'to remove something from a place', but it can also be used to express the ideas of movement, acceptance and endurance, among others.


Next, we have the prepositional particle 'down', which is a common feature in phrasal verb constructions and generally means a lower position, or movement towards to a lower position when used adverbially. As with almost all prepositions in English, it is used in many diverse and different ways, however it is worth mentioning here that one of its uses as an adverb means 'to be recorded in writing or in written form'.....

- I have all of the details down on paper, so I can refer back to them if I need to.


So, now that we have got all of the basics covered, let's move on to the different phrasal verb meanings of 'take down'....

 

MEANING 1: To remove something from a high place

A lady reaching up to take down a jar from a high shelf

CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To remove, to get down, to bring down, to lower

The first meaning of 'take down' that we will look at is more or less a literal meaning as it is 'to remove something from its position in a high place, so that it ends up in a lower place'.


This can be used for things which are positioned in a physically high place such as a high shelf (like in the picture above) or on top of a wardrobe, however it can also be used for items that are suspended above the ground, such as decorative lights, or affixed to walls in an elevated position, such a as poster or a notice.


If you have read my recent post about the phrasal verb 'put up', you may recall that the third meaning of 'put up' that I covered was 'to place something on display'. Moreover, as I also mentioned, 'put' and 'take' are often used in English for opposite actions, especially in phrasal verb constructions, and 'take down' is no exception to that rule as it is used to remove something that has been placed on display.


Grammatically speaking, this meaning of 'take down' does take a direct object and is separable. You can put the object between or after the phrasal verb, without changing the meaning or intonation.


Another variation of this meaning that I want to mention here is one that is predominantly used in American English and means to 'lower something without removing it' and the prime example of this would be trousers / pants. In British English, we may also say 'take down' here or the alternative 'pull down'.


Examples of usage

Could you help that lady and reach up there and take down a bag of flour for her from the top shelf as she can't reach it.
We are having our living room painted today, so I have had to take down all the pictures and photos from the wall.
Helen gets sad and depressed when she has to take her Christmas decorations and lights down.
Could you take down your trousers please, so that the doctor can see the wound on your leg.
 

MEANING 2: To dismantle a structure


​CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To dismantle, to take apart, to disassemble, to deconstruct

The second meaning of 'take down' is to dismantle an upright structure. In other words, this is removing each part of the structure until it is no longer standing and only the constituent parts remain.


Once again, this action in direct contrast to one of the meanings of 'put up' that I recently posted about (i.e. to build a structure). Much like its opposite, it can be used to talk about buildings, tents, fences and any other standing structures that can be dismantled and removed.


Furthermore, this usage of 'take down' can also be used to talk about dismantling non-physical structures such as social systems and governments. For this however, it tends to be used by activists and people with strong opinions and is therefore used much more forcefully and negatively.


Examples of usage

The crew took down the enormous building, steel beam by steel beam.
The local council has taken down the tired old road signs in the city and has put up new modern ones in their place.
Our neighbour has put up a huge fence between our gardens and we have asked him to take it down and replace it with a shorter one.
Cries of "take down the government" could be heard during the rally.
 

MEANING 3: To write something


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synoynms

To note down, to write down

The third meaning of 'take down' is a commonly used one in the world of business English and means 'to write something down so that there is a written record of it'.


If you remember from earlier on in the post, I mentioned that one of the meanings of 'down' as an adverb is to be recorded in written form and this phrasal verb meaning is simply an extension of that meaning.


If we take something down, we note it on paper, or in word processed form, so that we can refer back to it at a later time or date. As such, this application is often used when there is a degree of seriousness to the situation, such as 'taking down' the registration number of a car involved in an accident or 'taking down' all of the details regarding a customer complaint so that you can look into it later.


Examples of usage

John has taken down my address and has promised to send me hard copies of the photos from today's workshop in the post.
A car just drove into my car when I was reversing and damaged the back. It sped off again so quickly afterwards that I did not have a chance to take down the registration number.
Lisa is going to take down all of the minutes of today's meeting and she will send you all a copy by email once she has written them up.
 

MEANING 4: To defeat someone


CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To defeat, to beat

The fourth and final meaning of 'take down' means 'to defeat someone', usually in a convincing or conclusive way. Furthermore, in some, more extreme, cases it can also mean to kill someone or destroy something.


I believe that this particular application of 'take down' can be traced back to combat sports, in particular wrestling, as when a person is defeated, they are often 'down' on the floor. This usage of 'take down' is still very much used in combat sports but has spread to become acceptable for all sports or competition. It is definitely more of an informal usage and can often be used as a threat to someone, either of physical violence towards them or simply that they will be defeated.


This meaning is separable and tends to be used much more commonly with the pronoun for the defeated person (me, you, him etc.) or thing (it) being placed between 'take' and 'down'. If you are using the name of the person or thing that is defeated, then you are fine to place this either between or after the phrasal verb, however if you are using a pronoun, then it needs to go between 'take' and 'down'.


Examples of usage

Many people have tried to take down Roger but no one has succeeded yet!
You'd better be worried because I am going to take you down next time!
The boxing world champion has threatened to take down his next opponent before the end of the first round at their match this coming Saturday.

The word 'TIPS' spelled out using wooden blocks

IDIOM ALERT!


Before we take a look at the bonus material, I just want to make you aware of an English idiom that features the phrasal verb 'take down'.


To take someone down a peg or two is an expression that means 'to show someone that they are not as important as they think they are'. This is often reserved for arrogant and self-important people who think they are better than other people. When we take them down a peg or two, we do or say something that stops them acting in that superior way.


A couple of alternatives to this idiom also exist. One of these is 'to take someone down a notch' and the other is 'to bring someone down a peg or two'.


Examples of usage

She thinks she is so much better than everyone else and one of these days someone is going to take her down a peg or two.
The arrogant footballer was taken down a peg or two when he started playing football for a professional team and he realised that he was no longer the best in his team.
 

The word 'BONUS' spelled out with different coloured balloons being held up by different hands

BONUS: TAKE DOWN AS A NOUN

As I mentioned at the very beginning of the post, the phrasal verb 'take down' also has a noun derivative 'takedown' (or 'take-down'), which has several different meanings:


The first of these links back to wrestling and refers to when a fighter is knocked or wrestled to the ground by their opponent. Alternatively, this could also be used for the act of successfully taking someone down a peg or two.


The next use of the noun 'takedown' can be used to describe when something is harshly criticised in great detail in writing, in a speech or on a tv show.


The last use of 'takedown' as a noun is to describe when the police arrest multiple people at the same time.

 

Question marks in different coloured overlapping speech bubbles on a black background

EXERCISE Re-write the following sentences using 'to take down'....

  1. Can you reach up to the top shelf and get the loaf of bread down for me?

  2. The billboard advertisement was removed after a complaint from a member of the public.

  3. Dismantle the patriarchy now!

  4. Despite having poor eyesight, John managed to make a note of the car's registration plate.

  5. Roger was a sore loser and told Helen in a threatening way that he would beat her the next time that they played golf.

  6. He is so conceited and arrogant, someone is going to put him in his place and show him that he's not as important as he thinks one day.

The answers will be available on next week's post.

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'GIVE OUT' (other variations may be possible)

  1. The local restaurant was GIVING OUT passers-by free samples of their food earlier.

  2. These new speakers that I have bought GIVE OUT a high quality sound.

  3. John was lifting a heavy box when his back GAVE OUT, meaning that he had to take a month off work.

  4. The farmer estimates that he has about a week until his grain stock GIVES OUT.

  5. The local aid agency is GIVING OUT information about how to help with the rescue efforts.

  6. Lisa's teacher was always GIVING OUT to her for being late to class.

 

That is the end of today's post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I sincerely hope that it has helped you a little bit further on your English learning journey.


If you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media, so together we can help as many English learners as possible to understand and master these tricky phrasal verbs.


Also, please leave any comments, questions, suggestions or examples of 'take down' below. I really love reading them. If you want to receive new blog posts directly email every week, please sign up on the form below. See you next time! James














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