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What do you call the process of filling up an electric kettle and turning it on? Does set up fit the context? For example:

Please set up the kettle. We need some hot water.

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    There's sometimes a distinction between putting something on and turning it on. The latter usually implies nothing more than switching on the power, but the former can also imply carrying out any relevant preparation. Hence I'll turn the dinner on would normally imply just switching the oven on to heat/cook some ready-prepared food, but I'll put the dinner on could imply much more preparatory work (peeling vegetables, etc.). By the same token, Put the kettle on would normally imply "fill it up first if necessary", whereas Turn the kettle on might not. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jan 14 at 17:03
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    "Set up the kettle" would (at least in American) seem to imply that you're taking a new kettle, or an old one that's been stored, out of its packaging or storage place, connecting electric cords & so on. Once it is set up, you could fill it with water and make tea (or other hot beverage). – jamesqf Jan 15 at 18:12
  • @jamesqf good point - if you're setting up a new appliance like a kettle, its always good practice to use it and pour the first load of water down the sink. This helps ensure there are no debris left over from manufacturing. Point is, SET UP the kettle could quite reasonably include filling and activating it, but I wouldn't drink that first output. – Criggie Jan 15 at 22:46

14 Answers 14

20

This may be a regional thing, but speaking as an American:

I'd probably say "please put on the kettle". This doesn't make much literal sense -- put what on the kettle? -- but it's a common idiom.

Or, "please start the kettle".

Or more generally: "please make some tea". Sure, this doesn't specify to use a kettle, but that would likely be assumed. As opposed to using what to make tea, a bicycle pump? Oh, okay, you could boil one cup of water in a microwave.

Maybe other phrases. depending on how specific I thought I needed to be.

I don't know of a single word or simple phrase that explicitly expresses the idea of putting water in an electric kettle, plugging it in, and turning it on. Probably because most of the time this is unnecessary detail. If we had an electric kettle and also a kettle that you put on the stove top, would I find it necessary to specify which one I wanted you to use? If I did, then I'd have to spell that out. "Please use the electric kettle to boil some water" or "please make some tea with that cool new electric kettle we just bought" or whatever.

I probably wouldn't say "please boil some water", because you might think I meant in a big pot to make soup or pasta.

If you told me to "set up the kettle", my first thought would be that you had just bought a new kettle and we needed to assemble it. I wouldn't think of pouring water into a kettle and plugging it in as "setting it up".

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    It's always "put the kettle on" in British English (as in the nursery rhyme Polly, put the kettle on). Presumably it originally referred to putting the kettle on the fire. – Kate Bunting Jan 14 at 16:59
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    Brits tend to drink tea more than Americans, yes. But an American would still say put on the kettle. There is not one term but put on the kettle assumes you will put water in it if needed before putting it on. – Lambie Jan 14 at 17:41
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    As a American English speaker, I would certainly understand if someone said 'put the kettle on' or 'boil the kettle', but I wouldn't use those phrases unless I was visiting a tea drinking country. Since tea is not a daily experience here, I would have to address the heating of the water and why I want it heated. I would likely say, if tea hadn't surfaced in the conversation, 'boil/heat/warm some water for tea' or 'put some water on for tea'. If tea was already the subject of the conversation I could count on being understood if I said 'boil/heat/warm some water' or 'put some water on'. – KnotWright Jan 14 at 18:55
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    @KnotWright Yes, I agree, "put the kettle on" is also common, probably more common then "put on the kettle". – Jay Jan 14 at 21:19
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    Yes, in Australia too we “put the kettle on”, meaning to fill and switch on. @Mazura: MAKE some water for tea? Really? Sounds like you are reacting hydrogen and oxygen to make water, not getting it out of the tap and boiling it. – Orbital Aussie Jan 15 at 2:40
69

I think most Brits would say, "Put the kettle on", with both the electricity and the water taken for granted.

It's what we used to say even before we had electricity, and it was enshrined in the nursery rhyme of circa 1800, "Polly put the kettle on," whose deathless lyrics are:

Polly put the kettle on
Polly put the kettle on
Polly put the kettle on
We'll all have tea.

There should of course be a comma after each 'Polly', but when you first hear the song the tense can't be determined immediately, and I like the way the ambiguity is sustained until line four!

There's a second verse which ramps up the tension. Polly is usurped and Sukey is put in charge of the whole operation. The final line carries a powerful emotional charge. I shan't quote it here, gentle reader.

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  • 3
    I'd suggest that the origins of the phrase predate electricity and it was to "put the kettle on the stove." My gran used a old fashioned kettle that frankly was probably older than she was, right up until after 2000. – GeoffAtkins Jan 15 at 10:00
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    +1 As a fellow brit, this is what we say. – spikey_richie Jan 15 at 10:44
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    @GeoffAtkins pretty sure putting a pot on the fire predates even stoves :) – Will Crawford Jan 15 at 10:55
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    There are places and times it can't be an electric kettle and I'm sure we'll still use the phrase. For example when camping (gas stove) or as backup (electric ketttle kaput) or during a power cut (in a house with mains gas). We'll improvise with a pan if we have to. – nigel222 Jan 16 at 15:35
  • It comes to life in the second verse: Sukey take it off again, Sukey take it off again, Sukey take it off again, They've all gone away. – TonyK Jan 17 at 12:07
19

The phrasings that are most idiomatic to me (British) would be:

Could/can you put the kettle on, please?

Could/can you boil the kettle, please?

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  • 9
    Yes to "put the kettle on". No to "boil the kettle". – Kevin Jan 14 at 22:39
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    @Kevin: Well, “put the kettle on” is more common, but “boil the kettle” is also something I hear fairly often, especially in more formal settings, e.g., at work. – Chris Mack Jan 14 at 22:50
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    "boil the kettle" or "boil a kettle" is something I hear/say a lot myself. Probably very regional. – bobsburner Jan 15 at 9:35
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    I'm with Chris on this one. If it's "regional", it's a pretty big region, as I've heard it from one end of England to the other ... – Will Crawford Jan 15 at 10:56
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    To my ears the difference between the two is intent - if I ask my someone to put the kettle on it's because I intend to have a cup of tea, whereas if I ask them to boil the kettle I likely want the hot water for some other purpose, such as making up some baby formula. – JonK Jan 15 at 13:10
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As a first-language speaker, the first word that comes to mind is "boil". That is,

Please boil the kettle. We need some hot water.

This is obviously an idiomatic expression. I wouldn't suggest using "set up" since it isn't idiomatic. Another option you could use is

Please put on the kettle.

Both imply that you are boiling the water within the kettle even though this isn't explicitly stated. Hope this helps!


Options from the comments

pop the kettle on (The Brits are always popping, especially over or "round")
bung the kettle on
boil the kettle
boil the water, I am gasping for a tea (gasping for a tea may be old fashioned now)

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    Maybe this is a regional thing, but as an American, if someone told me to "boil the kettle", I would understand that to mean to put the entire kettle into some bigger pot of boiling water -- perhaps to clean it? -- not to put water in the kettle and use the kettle to boil water. I'd agree with "put on the kettle". It doesn't make much literal sense but it is common and idiomatic. – Jay Jan 14 at 16:24
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    Put on the kettle, boil the water. – Lambie Jan 14 at 17:39
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    I'm British and "boil the kettle" was the first one that came to my mind. "put on the kettle" sounds very odd and non native to me, I'd put the "on" at the end as in other answers - "put the kettle on" – ammonite Jan 15 at 9:51
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    We say "put the kettle on", at least for the last forty-something years I've been around and using English, but "boil the kettle" is perfectly valid too (has been observed "in the wild") - usually preceded with "please" or "please could you". Also heard as "pop" the kettle on. Since "kettle" used to mean "something you put liquids in to boil on a stove or fire" (see also "fish kettle"), it does seem self-evident that it refers to the act of placing the kettle over a source of heat. Switching to electricity didn't cause any change in language; we also talk of "putting the television on" ... – Will Crawford Jan 15 at 10:49
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    @Lnz The Brits are always popping, especially over or "round". – Lambie Jan 15 at 15:18
6

In Australia and New Zealand, the phrasing for this is either "put the kettle on" (derived from British usage) or "boil the kettle".

Native speakers in both countries also commonly replace 'kettle' in these phrases with 'jug' (prior to electric appliances being universally available, ceramic jugs and metal kettles were both used for boiling water, and many were later "upgraded" with electric elements).

One might also "click the jug" (in reference to the distinctive sound made when the catch on the switch for an electric kettle is turned on) however this is much less common and only used in some areas. It should be avoided unless the speaker has identified its use locally.

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    Agreed - As a South Islander, we'd easily swap "jug" for kettle in most of these examples. – Criggie Jan 15 at 22:39
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I as an American do not find "boil the kettle" an idiomatic way to say

fill the electric kettle with liquid and then apply the appropriate amount of electrical current to the kettle in order to heat the liquid to some unspecified degree

I cannot recollect a single verb that expresses the combined actions of filling a container with liquid and then immediately taking action to heat the liquid in the container.

You could use "set up" or "prepare" to indicate taking preliminary steps in advance.

Please set up the coffee maker tonight so the coffee will be brewed when we come downstairs in the morning.

But in your sentence you seem to be talking about immediate action, about filling the electric kettle and than immediately turning it on. In that case, "set up" and "prepare" do not convey the sense of immediate action. If you assume that the actions necessary to succeed (such as filling the kettle with water and turning on an electric appliance) will be understood without specification, you can simply say

Please use the electric kettle to heat some water

or

Please use the electric kettle to boil some water

depending on how hot you want the water to be.

In other words "set up," prepare," and "use" imply rather than specify the individual steps required to complete a process, with "set up" and "prepare" indicating that the final step is to be postponed and "use" indicating that all steps be performed in the appropriate sequence.

Sometimes, however, it is desirable to specify the steps that together form a process. For example, if you are writing detailed instructions on how to use an electric kettle, try

First, fill the kettle with the desired quantity of liquid; then plug the power cord into an electric socket; then turn the kettle on by pushing the green button, and, finally, when the temperature gauge indicates that the liquid has reached the desired temperature, turn the kettle off by pushing the red button.

In any case, I would not say "boil" unless you mean to "heat to boiling." "Heat" is a perfectly accebtable verb.

Nor would I say

Boil the kettle

when you mean

Boil water

It is of course possible (given enough heat) to reduce metal to a liquid state at which it begins to vaporize, but if your desire is for hot water, applying enough heat to boil steel will result in steam rather than water.

There is an idiomatic locution exemplified by

Boil a kettle of water

but "kettle" there refers to a quantity of water, and the words "of water" must either be specified or clearly indicated by context. And notice the indefinite article.

EDIT Having looked at the other answers, this may be one of those many slight differences that exist between British and American English.

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    I would say that most Americans would just say "boil some water" with the kettle part just assumed. – pboss3010 Jan 14 at 16:22
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    Pboss I agree that "boil some water" is common, but it assumes a quantity. If the quantity is important, you might say "boil a quart of water" or "boil a pot of water." – Jeff Morrow Jan 14 at 16:45
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    boil the kettle is most certainly not American English, as you said. – Lambie Jan 14 at 17:39
  • When I was in England 30 years ago I noticed that the electric water boilers resembled kettles, like this one, whereas our German (and, I assume, the U.S.) equivalents were pretty bland. I therefore wouldn't call a water cooker a kettle (which would be for stove-top use, or would be the thing to brew the tea in), but a British person might, because it has that shape. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jan 15 at 11:20
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica The kettles are called electric kettles. And one sees them in most settings in houses in British movies or TV fare. – Lambie Jan 15 at 15:25
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Depending on one's heritage, one might also say "put the billy on" which is grammatically identical to kettle or jug.

Probably more common for those who spent time camping, or maybe working in the fields where your hot water literally came from a billy-can over an open fire.

This is an AU/NZ concept, but should be understood by a Briton or Irish, according to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billycan

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    I (native brit) certainly wouldn't have understood "billy" in this context. – Peter Green Jan 16 at 2:11
  • @PeterGreen fair enough - thank you for that. I was merely quoting wikipedia's wording. – Criggie Jan 16 at 2:28
1

While I'm more likely to say "put on the kettle", I might also "run the kettle" in the same way that I would "run the dishwasher" or "run a load of laundry".

"While I'm already running the kettle, should I heat up enough water for you also?"

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1

"Jeeves! Ready the tea!"

Yes, it overshoots the original intent, but if you're going to ask for hot water you might as well go all the way and get to the real intended result.

But I'd upvote "put the kettle on" if I could.

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  • 2
    Or "Jeeves, I will take tea now." – Clyde Jan 16 at 22:27
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I'm surprised nobody's used this one, it's the first thing that came to mind. It is a little bit of a variation though:

Please brew some tea/[hot] water [in the kettle].

("hot" and "in the kettle" might be optional here.)


My second choice would be:

Please make some tea/hot water [in the kettle].

These sound most natural to me.

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    Brewing is the specific act of allowing the ground leaves of tea (or beans in the case of coffee) to steep in the water, imbuing it with flavor and color. This is a very distinct act and far too narrow for the OP's request of simply bringing the water in a kettle to a boil. The idea of saying 'please brew some water' is completely foreign to me. – Brian R Jan 16 at 17:47
  • @BrianR Dictionary.com does say, "to make or prepare (a beverage, as tea) by mixing, steeping, soaking, or boiling a solid in water," but a lesser definition is, "to boil, steep, soak, or cook". I would indeed probably say, "brew some tea", but it's not entirely wrong to brew water either, especially in the context of preparation for tea or coffee. – Andrew Jan 16 at 18:01
1

In American West Coast talk, I would ask my friend to “get some going”, e.g

“Hey Ahmad, could you get some tea going?”

Or

“Hey, Alice, could you get some hot water going?”

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1

"Stick on the kettle" is often used in British English. See, for example, the song "Stick the kettle on" by Lucy Spraggan feat. Scouting For Girls. Further discussion can be found here https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/stick-the-kettle-on.2895823/.

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0

I think I would say "please fill the kettle", or "I've filled the kettle" and leave it to conversational implicature to imply that it is, or is to be, turned on.

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-1

"Start" is a commonly used verb, and can imply the performance of all steps necessary to do something. If you ask someone to "start the meeting" that can mean everything from opening up a room to turning on equipment to making opening remarks. "Start the kettle" or "Start the tea" would be a request for everything (water, kettle, electricity, tea) except serving.

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