This one drives me insane, and it’s become extremely common among bloggers. All it takes to avoid this error is to take a second and think about what you’re trying to say.

Source: http://www.copyblogger.com/5-common-mistakes-that-make-you-look-dumb/

I suppose that in the sentence "a look" is missing ("take a second look"). Is this kind of omission of the noun widespread in English?

  • There is a cockney rhyming slang for 'take a butchers' which means 'take a look' which is the only reason I can think of for confusing these two sentences otherwise they're entirely separate.
    – icc97
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 10:55
  • @icc97 specifically its "butcher's hook" == "look" so "have a butcher's" would fit as well.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 21:35
  • 1
    The confusion is caused by the ambiguity in the word "second". Did you know that the etymology is from the original Greek where the hour was divided into sixty "minute" parts, and each of these parts were subdivided into sixty smaller parts again, i.e. a "second" subdivision into smaller parts.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 15:25
  • Did I say Greek? Sorry, Latin.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 8:05

7 Answers 7


I interpret the example sentence as meaning "take a second" (of the author's time). It does not omit a noun.

  • 38
    I think you’re hedging too much when you note this as your interpretation – this is the one, true, correct answer to the question, so there is no need to suggest otherwise. It may leave learners thinking that other possibilities exist where none do.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 19:29
  • 7
    Other possibilities exist, @KRyan. Consider: "Many people miss this error at first glance. Take a second in order to catch it." Here, "take a second" is a coherent phrase but "second" more likely means glance number two. Or, "That was a good cookie. I'd like to have a second." The phrase "take a second" does not always mean "take a small fraction of a minute", and the omission of the otherwise-repeated relevant noun (glance, cookie, or whatever) is quite common. In OP's example, there's no mention of a first, so "second" more likely means a unit of time rather than an ordinal number. Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 20:06
  • 13
    @GaryBotnovcan There is a specific quote provided here, which is not those quotes. Yes, context is king and yes sometimes “take a second” could be referring to a look, but that’s not true of the example given.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 20:12
  • 2
    @GaryBotnovcan Even in your example, it to refers to time - instead of a short glance, have a longer look
    – Izkata
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 14:19
  • 1
    Agreed - it expands to "take your time and thing about this for a short period" and there is an implied suggestion to think about the problem from the other side or from another point of view.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 21:38

Take a second is a phrase that is used to emphasise how quickly something of comparatively great benefit can be done. It's often used in the phrase "it'll only take a second".

It is used to encourage someone to do something they might not necessarily want to do. In your example, writers are being implored to think about what they are trying to say. The benefit if they take a second to do this is that they'll avoid an error that is extremely common amongst bloggers.

  • I completely overlooked that "second" can be the noun. And having in my mind the phrase "take a second look" I was a little bit puzzled. Thank you for your clarifying.
    – bart-leby
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 19:33
  • 4
    Yes. Here it refers to the unit of time, rather than the numerical position. Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 21:46

"A second," "one minute," etc. can figuratively mean "a short amount of time."

This makes intuitive sense because one minute (1/60 of an hour) is often considered to be a short time, and one second is even shorter (1/60 of a minute).

Confusingly, "second" as a noun seems unrelated to "second" or "2nd" as an adjective. Maybe there's an interesting etymological story behind it...

  • 3
    Apparently it's the “second diminished part (of the hour)”, according to Wiktionary. Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 7:20
  • Yes, that would make sense. (Hour > Minute > Second)
    – jkdev
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 7:42
  • 3
    @jkdev minute comes from the Latin pars minuta prima (=first small part), and second from parte minutae secundae (=second small part). This is also the origin of using ' for minutes and " for seconds (e.g. 2'20" for 2 minutes, 20 seconds )
    – nico
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 18:09
  • @nico Thanks! That may also explain why "minute" means "very small" (when it's pronounced my-noot).
    – jkdev
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 6:39

Unfortunately, this depends a lot on context. It could be the omission of a noun if used literally, but it almost never is. The sentence "Take a second." would normally be the omission of a prepositional phrase. The idiom is normally "take a second to..." It usually references thinking or actively sensing, i.e. "take a second to think through the problem before using brute force." Other phrases like this are "take a minute" or "take a moment" and have the same meaning. It does suggest something momentary though, as opposed to the related "take a while."

Interestingly, if someone says that something will take a second, you can expect them to be done shortly, but not literally in a second. If somebody will take a while, do not expect them to be done soon. These declarative (stating facts about the world) meanings carry through to the imperative (requesting or ordering that something be done) meanings as well.


It's equivalent to "take a minute," meaning, take a small amount of time (if there's an ellipsis, which there's not here, it can imply 'time out,' a break or thinking time.)


Weird answers here to be honest. It literally means to delay before performing the action and by doing so you should in theory perform the action better by thinking about it more. The author of that phrase is stating that you should "stop and think" before performing the action. They are definitely not implying you should "double check".

  • None of the other answers are approaching this from the idea of "double-checking" per se. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 4:39
  • The last sentence is in regards to the OPs suggestion that the word "look" should exist
    – Jesse
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 4:41

Words or phrases may vary based on how they are use in a sentence. Let's say for example, the word "see".

I see his dog barking in front of your store last night.

I see him as a brother not as a boyfriend.

In my first sentence, the word see literally means something that was perceived or spotted by the eyes, while on the second part of the sentence the word see was used as something you have discerned or regarded as.

So I think the same goes for this situation, it is based on how the phrase "take a second" was used in the sentence to conclude whether or not this phrase should be accompanied by the word "look". However, judging on how "take a second" was used, the author was just trying to suggest his readers to take a pause or break and think things over before speaking or writing to avoid committing errors and to make your statement clearer.

Besides, when you say "take a second look" it basically means the phrase itself: taking a look on something for the second time or reexamining things or having things double-checked.


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