That Pesky Phrasal Verb “Take Place”

The trouble with the phrasal verb “take place” is that learning isn’t taking place.

Or rather, remembering.

Closed for business (Naomi's photos)
Closed for business
(Naomi’s photos)

To borrow a term from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point”, I can’t seem to make it “sticky”.

This phrasal verb appears frequently in high-school exams here and is on my list of absolutely common phrases the students should practice and remember.

While I am unable to say that all my students remember the other phrases on the list I have found that my efforts to make them more memorable have had an impact.

Not so with “take place”.

Is the source of the problem the fact that in Hebrew it translates into one word, not two? The phrasal verb “take partis remembered better (even though the common translation is into one word, there is an exact two-word translation). Even the phrase “in order to” which translates into three words in Hebrew only when you manipulate the word for “in” , gets better results.

Shadows won't do in this case! (Naomi's photos)
Shadows won’t do in this case!
(Naomi’s photos)

Perhaps the fact that pictures don’t help visualise this phrase the way they do with “how long”, “how many”, etc., compounds the problem.

Personalizing a phrase is usually a winning strategy. I gave the students exercises with questions such as:

* Where did our school sports day take place?

* When will the World Cup begin?

However, the students only looked at the WH questions and ignored the phrase “take place”.


That cat that ignored me! (Naomi's photos)
That cat that ignored me!
(Naomi’s photos)

In fact, on texts the phrase usually appears in the past form “took place” (as in “the concert took place in London) , so there was no “carry over” from the question form, even if the questions were highly personalized and related to their birthdays and personal interests.

The biggest problem may simply be the fact that many students actually knew the word “place” from beforehand and therefore find it difficult to relate to it having another meaning when it comes with the word “take“. This, despite work done in class on common phrasal verbs. If you take the meaning of “take” + “place” it makes no sense.  That should be a red flag. However, a typical problem with struggling learners is that they don’t stop and think “that’s not logical, it can’t be right”.

This verbal phrase is incredibly useful. This issue must be tackled.

Any suggestions?

5 thoughts on “That Pesky Phrasal Verb “Take Place””

  1. Hi, Naomi,
    I don’t know whether cross-language reference is allowed, but perhaps it would help to mention that “take place” was actually a single word in the German from which it came, and just broke up into two words when it became English. (The German is “stattfinden”, which is “to take place, but if one took it apart into parts, it would be literally “place-find”.) German still calls it a single word even when it is broken up (“Das Konzert findet morgen statt.”), and English compromises by calling it a phrase, but the sense of it is a single word, and thus is like any other word in their vocabulary list (that is, not learned as two separate words that come together). So you can ask them if it makes sense to use only part of a word just because that part resembles an earlier word. “We go to the movie together” is not the same as “we go to the movie to”, or “we go to the movie gather”. One has to learn (and use) “together” even if one already knows the words “to” and “gather”.
    As far as I know, Yiddish did not adopt this German word.
    Good luck.

    1. Very interesting, David! I hadn’t thought of the word’s origins. I wonder why Yiddish didn’t adopt it. I don’t know if I could explain it to my students but I’m glad to know that. The “together” example might be easier to explain.
      Thank you for stopping by!

      1. Or along the same lines as suggested by David, “breakfast” is another good example. It is comprised of two words – something that always comes up with my students around Yom Kippur 🙂

  2. Posted on behalf of Dorit Renov:
    I tell my students to visualize a chunk of time, an event, in a long line of events so that it’s taking a place (physical as it were) in that line. this way a cross-over may be made from the dimension of time to space.

    Ah, visualising! Thank you Dorit! Will experiment!

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