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I quite often come across the following phrases:

Have a picnic,

Make a picnic,

Go on a picnic,

Go for a picnic

But I can't distinguish between them. Are they the same or do they have different meanings?

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    It depends a lot on the context, so it is hard to give one answer. For example, "I heard that Bob and Mary went on a picnic yesterday. How come we never have a picnic? I could really go for a picnic." I don't think I've ever heard anyone say make a picnic, though. Are you sure you didn't see it as part of "make a picnic lunch" or something? – stangdon Mar 21 '18 at 18:18
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I will take a stab at this. "Have a picnic" is the standard expression and in general usage applies to someone whether they are just attending the picnic or actually planning and/or running the picnic. "Making a picnic" is non-idiomatic for either attending or planning, but perhaps would be acceptable for a caterer or cook who actually prepares the picnicking food and accoutrements. "Go on a picnic" is also considered non-standard, but I would venture to say is not terribly non-idiomatic. In other words one hears it more and more. In actual usage I would say it is used indistinguishably from "have a picnic", though to my ears it sounds more appropriately reserved for attending as opposed to planing a picnic. Interestingly enough "go for a picnic" sounds less problematic than "go on a picnic" at least in the case of "let's hop in the car and go for a picnic". I do think that this does place emphasis on either the distance away from one's present location, or a dramatic change in pace or activity.

I should also point out that you are leaving out the most basic form i.e.,just "picnic"as a verb.

  • Yes. To my BrE ear, you can quite naturally suggest having a picnic even if you're just going to throw a blanket down on the back lawn, but that wouldn't be far enough away to suggest going for a picnic. I could imagine a slight connection to going on/for a walk (where on tends to "elevate" the activity, perhaps to something more organised / extended), but I'm not sure that really applies to picnics. – FumbleFingers Mar 21 '18 at 18:38
  • In the US it is common to have people say that they could "go for a picnic" implying that they desire to have a picnic. – m_a_s Mar 21 '18 at 19:01

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