Take the doll in the box!

It could seem to look like a very easy question to some native speakers, but that sentence is actually confusing in meaning in that it could mean either "take the doll into the box" or "take the doll that is in the box". I want to know whether "take something in something" can be used to mean in the former case in everyday speech. I've already looked up "take in" in lots of dictionaries, but when it's used to mean the former, there's always no object of "in" like "Take the doll in". I think this is to avoid confusing.

  • I am a native speaker, and this does not make sense to me either. I would understand "Take the doll out of the box" or "put the doll in the box". You take something out, or put it in. – wavery May 9 '19 at 6:52
  • just to add, you could say "take the doll in the closet" and that would not seem too odd. – wavery May 9 '19 at 6:57
  • On further thought, this is pretty confusing. You actually could say "Take the doll into the room" and that would make sense. But you wouldn't say "Take the doll into the box". Taking implies you are going in there with them! – wavery May 9 '19 at 7:09
  • @wavery I've just found out this sentence in a dictionary "Take sugar in your coffee" meaning "add sugar into your coffee". Does this sentence sound unnatural to you as well? – Glittering river May 9 '19 at 7:17
  • No that one makes sense. I think "take" is a strange verb in English that can mean different things depending on context. – wavery May 9 '19 at 14:19

There are loads of ambiguous sentences in English with a duality of meaning, but context nearly always reveals the intended meaning.

For example:

My dad drives to work in a bowler hat.

Does this mean that his vehicle is a bowler hat? Of course not.

I see the duality of meaning in your example sentence too, but I don't think any thinking person would imagine a box large enough for a person to enter, with a doll; but if you found yourself in such a scenario then I'm sure you would correctly understand the order.

I'm sure other languages have the same quirk.

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  • I think that just one hand taking the doll is enough to enter the box with the doll, not an entire body. I have no ideas why you think if someone took the doll in the box, their entire body would enter the box with the doll. I think just one hand is enough, which is why I'm thinking my sentence could be meant for the former reasonably. – Glittering river May 9 '19 at 9:18
  • @Floret If it was only your hand entering the box we would say "put the doll in the box". We only "take" something with us, and that implies that we are going into the box as well as the doll. "Taking a bag on vacation" doesn't mean placing it on a plane without us! But even if there were still any ambiguity, the context would dictate the meaning. Who is saying this to you? Is the person holding out a box with a doll in and asking you to take it? Are you already holding a doll and they have an empty box? Context is king! – Astralbee May 9 '19 at 9:32
  • Then, what do you think about this sentence that I found in a dictionary "Take sugar in your coffee" ? Your logic doesn't apply to this sentence. The dictionary explains the sentence means like "Add sugar in your coffee". Might this dictionary have listed a wrong sentence? – Glittering river May 9 '19 at 9:37
  • @Floret Good point, "taking tea" is idiomatic in British English and some other English speakers find it odd, but it isn't really when you think that we "take" food and drink into our body. The "taking" doesn't refer to the action of putting the sugar in the tea but the taking of sugar into our body. Another word for drinking is "imbibe" which also means to take in. What we consume may also be referred to as "intake". – Astralbee May 9 '19 at 9:40
  • Then, do you think although the sentence as is just does make sense, the explanation of the sentence by the dictionary isn't correct? According to your opinion, that shouldn't be read as "Add sugar in your coffee", but "Take sugar into your body that is in your coffee". – Glittering river May 9 '19 at 9:49

You can say:

  • Put the doll into the box or put sugar in coffee.
  • Take the doll from the box.

It can help you if you think:

You can take things from or out of something or you can take them with you, and then you have things - they are with you.

You can put things into or onto something or put them away, so you "lose" them.

You can say "take a doll in the room," because this means take a doll with you in the room.

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