Baths and Showers: “Taking” or “Having”?

In the 3rd century BCE, the philosopher Archimedes was taking a long bath and playing with his rubber duck. To be honest, it may not have been a rubber duck but he was dunking something in and out of the water because according to legend, he leapt out, ran down the street, and shouted “Eureka!” which is Greek for “I’ve found it!” [1] What he’d found was a method of finding out how to decide if a gold crown was actually made of gold without melting it down, which you can do by dropping it in water and measuring the amount of liquid that gets displaced. This became known as Archimedes’ Principle but sadly he neglected to trademark the phrase or sell the slogan on togas so he failed to make a fortune from this well-known piece of intellectual property.

Archimedes shouts Eureka


Having ideas in the bath is something with which most people are familiar. There’s clearly something about being submerged in warm water that gets the brain a-buzzing, doubtless supported by a slew of research studies that talk about expanded arteries, endorphins, and brain scans.

So this morning while I was in the shower, I got to thinking about how I actually talked about the process of showering i.e. did I say “I’m going to take a shower” or “I’m going to have a shower.” Now before you read any further, think about which of those two sentences sounds “right” to you.

If you’re American, I’m predicting you use “take” whereas if you’re British, I’m going to say you said “have.” If you’re Canadian, Australian, or a New Zealander, I’d be happy to hear from you because I’m less sure – but if I had to take a guess, I think you’re a “haver” not a “taker.”

The reason I can be so confident is that I checked out the incidence of the use of the verbs have and take in relation to bathing and showering using the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American (COCA). I’ve mentioned these corpora before and I encourage you again to think about using them to help make decisions about real world language usage. [2]

All I did was to search for the phrases “take a bath/shower” and “have a bath/shower” in each corpus and use a simple percentage score to create the following table:

have versus take as verb with bath

"have" versus "take"

Feel free to perform a Chi-square analysis on this if you want but the figures look significant enough without whipping out the calculator. Notice that the have/take skew is much more pronounced for American English than British English but even the latter is pretty big.

Because I work primarily in AAC, I use this sort of information about language use in the real world for developing systems. And such data also critical for teaching communication strategies. It’s not enough to simply aim to teach words as individual items because words exist within the context of other words, and those relationships are critical to understanding. For example, given the data I’ve just demonstrated, teaching the word bath along with take would make perfect sense if I’m working in the US but back in the UK, I’d be better served focusing on using have with bath.

Knowledge of word collocation can be tremendously useful when creating intervention plans, and tools such as the COCA and BNC do this. Staying with the word bath, I did a collocation search for the words that appear immediately before and after it. The words hot and bubble are the top two that go before bath, with water appearing both before and after in almost equal amounts. With this sort of collocation information, I can be confident in teaching the words hot, bubble, and water along with bath, which not only adds new words to my client’s lexicon but also provides real contextual information about how the word bath is used.

 For more about the COCA and BNC corpora – and others – go to Mark Davies’ site and explore the interface. It’s a wonderful resource and much underused by speech pathologists methinks.

[1] The Greek word εὑρίσκω means “I find” and εὑρηκα is the perfect form meaning “I have found.” Greek declensions aside, Archimedes was clearly pretty excited about something.

[2] I’m aware that the COCA and BNC differ in relation to when they were created; the BNC data is from 1980-1993 whereas the COCA is more current with data from 1990-2011. However, given that this is a known variable, it’s still reasonable to make comparisons.


4 responses to “Baths and Showers: “Taking” or “Having”?

  1. Pingback: Efficacy or Effectiveness? How To Be A Word Detective | The Speech Dudes

  2. Pingback: The Eureka Moment. | Chris Conner

  3. Pingback: The Dudes Do ASHA 2012: Day 4 11/17/12 | The Speech Dudes

  4. MY fiancé has I’m going to take the kids a bath. Is this correct? I’ve always heard/used give for 3rd parties and take for 1st parties. I’ve also heard “have”, but not until meeting my fiancé had I encountered “take them a bath”.

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