Do they mean the same or different?


1 We might undertake going forward. 2 We might undertake to go forward.

** Additional info.

Dictionaries say that: 1 undertake + a noun means to do or begin to do something, especially something that will take a long time or be difficult 2 undertake to infinitive means to promise to do

So, the meanings must be different.

  • 1
    They mean the same, but (2) is much more natural. We usually speak of undertaking a task rather than an action. Oct 21, 2021 at 10:06
  • I have added elaboration,
    – user1425
    Oct 21, 2021 at 10:19
  • 2
    I don't consider that there is a hard and fast distinction. This definition gives examples with a noun for both senses. Oct 21, 2021 at 10:26
  • So, how do you interpret the original ones? 1 They promised to go forward. OR 2 They tried/started going forward.
    – user1425
    Oct 21, 2021 at 10:31
  • 1
    I understood them to mean "We might try going forward". It seems a more likely interpretation than "We might promise to..." Oct 21, 2021 at 10:40

1 Answer 1


The full Oxford English Dictionary includes these two definitions...

4a - To take upon oneself; to take in hand.
Sometimes contextually ‘to enter upon, begin’.

4c - To give a formal promise or pledge that; to take upon oneself to promise or affirm; to venture to assert.

(where definitions 1-3 are all marked "obsolete"). Clearly there's a difference between actually beginning to do something, and simply promising to do it. But contextually it's usually obvious which sense is intended. Note that in between those two definitions, the OED has...

4b Const. to with infinitive. (Sometimes implying a solemn pledge or promise: cf. next.)

...which has no associated explicit definition. Contextually you might therefore reasonably suppose 4b is "the same" definition as 4a (the only difference being the syntax of usage with an infinitive rather than noun). But semantically I attach significance to highlighted cf next in the above (implying that the syntax of 4b is particularly relevant to sense 4c).

Both of OP's examples are syntactically valid, but because to go forward pretty much means to start, to begin, there might be some disagreement as to exactly what either or both actually mean. My own off-the-cuff interpretation, with no further context, would be...

We might undertake going forward
= We may try or adopt the strategy of going forward
(as opposed to going backward or sideways?!)

We might undertake to go forward
= We may publicly commit ourselves to the strategy of going forward

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .