I just found this sentence,

"I took her to be my wife."

meaning "I took her for my wife."

But I could not find this usage in my dictionary.

Is this a common expression? I can also think of another sentence,

"I mistook her for my wife."

Can I use these three sentences interchangeably?

  • Or, even a bit more archaic, "I took her to wife". Sep 28 '15 at 3:03
  • First I thought that you took her (someone else) to (your?) wife! @PaulDraper
    – Maulik V
    Sep 28 '15 at 5:59
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    I'm not sure "I took her to be my wife." is the same as "I took her for my wife." The former is used to describe that you married 'her', as noted by StoneyB. The latter however could indicate that you merely took the 'her' for your wife (e.g. as a gift) and that the 'her' and 'wife' are not one and the same. E.g. "Today I saw a beautiful little kitten and I took her [kitten] for my wife [spouse]."
    – NPSF3000
    Sep 28 '15 at 6:31

Yes, the first two are interchangeable. Both of them are slightly old-fashioned ways to say "I married her".

And yes, the third one could possibly be interchangeable with the others, but it's unlikely, and has a very different meaning.

This interpretation relies on another meaning of "to take [something] for"/"to take [something] to be". These can mean "to believe or assume [something] to be". As this is often used when the belief/assumption turns out to be wrong, "mistook" could be used instead of "took" to make it clearer to the listener that it was wrong.

Example in context:

I was so embarrassed yesterday. I walked up to a woman that I took to be my wife and put my hand on her shoulder, but when she turned around, it was someone else with the same hairstyle!

("Mistook" would be equally correct.)

However, without such a context, most people would understand "took to be my wife" as meaning "married", probably because of the similarities to traditional wedding vows that StoneyB's answer mentioned.

  • 1
    An example of how, in English, the exact same set of words can have totally different meanings. I wonder is there a name for this phenomenon? Sep 28 '15 at 11:48
  • 1
    Simply, "ambiguity"? Also, I would like to notify the OP that the accepted answerer's assertion that 'take' doesn't have anything to do with 'mistake' is wrong. It's already in the words, and indeed, Merriam-Webster lists 'take for' as 'to suppose to be; especially: to suppose mistakenly to be' and also 'take' as 'consider, suppose <I take it you're not going>', although the syntax does not correspond to 'I took her to be my wife'. Sep 28 '15 at 12:23
  • I got too confused myself. This sentence is just one sentence in a exercise book without any context. There is only one Japanese sentence. I didn't think much about the context or background. I didn't realize there is so much meaning behind it. At first I thought there would be something wrong with the textbook, but now I think Tim's answer explains my question. I'm sorry for all of you who answered here. Maybe I got you confused. I'll choose his answer the best answer now. Sep 28 '15 at 23:43

This is an echo of a sentence from the wedding ceremony in the Church of England; the groom says:

I,____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Take has nothing to do with the sense “consider” or “suppose” (much less mistake, “suppose wrongly”. It means he received her into the marriage relationship.

  • 2
    Interesting. I've heard this phrase in many church weddings. I don't know that it's necessarily particular to the CoE. :D
    – Catija
    Sep 28 '15 at 0:11
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    @Catija I think the Anglicans wrote it, back in the first Book of Common Prayer, and most everybody in the English-speaking world picked it up from there. Sep 28 '15 at 0:18
  • Sir, as OP asked, can we interchange the above sentences with " I mistook her for my wife"? I don't think so.
    – Rucheer M
    Sep 28 '15 at 5:00
  • @RuchirM StoneyB has answered that aspect. To "mistake someone" means to wrongly identify someone. For example: "He was often mistaken for a famous movie actor"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 28 '15 at 5:09
  • Thank you for all your answer and comments. I didn't know there is so much meaning behind this sentence. My question was just based on the translation from my book. Yesterday I though my book was wrong. Now After reading all the answers and comments, I'd like to take Tim's answer here. Sep 28 '15 at 23:51

Is "I took her to be my wife" not ambiguous and thus best avoided? It could mean (depending on context) that I assumed she was probably my wife (it may have been dark for example, but nevertheless the indications were that the subject in the shadows was my wife) or it could mean the wedding ceremony sense, ie I formally accepted her as my wife.

  • Sometimes took is used to mean mistook. What they actually meant to say is I mistook her to be my wife.
    – cup
    Sep 28 '15 at 12:05
  • Normally the context will keep this from being ambiguous. I don't think I've ever heard of the usages being mistaken in practice.
    – reirab
    Sep 28 '15 at 14:49

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