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I thought since you can "put on clothes" you can "put them off" too but apparently no one says that so it must be wrong whereas you can "take them off" but not "take them on".

Ngram

Is there an explanation for that or is it something you just have to accept the way it is?

  • It sounds very old-fashioned now, but things like "he put off his hat" used to be much more common. Mostly I think that's just the way it is. English is hardly unique this way; Spanish and German use separate constructions for "put on" and "take off" too. – stangdon Mar 21 '17 at 23:07
  • Ngram has its uses but you do sometimes have to interpret the results. For example, no one says "take off clothes", instead it's commonly "take off your clothes" or something similar. Compare that with "put on your clothes". Because there are many variations on this basic phrase it's difficult to use Ngram to know what is or isn't "common". – Andrew Mar 21 '17 at 23:50
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    Anyway, for whatever reason "put off (something)" means something very different. You can also "take on (something)", but again the meaning is idiomatic and needs to be memorized. – Andrew Mar 21 '17 at 23:51
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Either form is directed at the subject performing the action. The verbs used are just closer in lexical aspect.

These are very basic words that are learned early in child hood and more complex opposites are easier to remember because they are easier to tell apart.

Take-off and put-on are verb-phrases close to single words, comparable to to accept, in which the prepostition ad- has become affixed to the word stem -cept (to take). You could as well ask why the opposite of to give away can't be formed using the opposite of away.

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