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The screenshot is taken from Riddick 2013:

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I don't think this take on matches the following senses in macmillan:

enter image description here

I would just say "We could use some water". Does the phrasal verb convey any subtle nuances?

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  • Take on = bring aboard. But I'm not sure of the context, despite the picture :) I would have expected "It was going to be a long haul". Unless "was" indicates that they made the trip regularly?.
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2015 at 13:52
  • Point taken! They have just landed on the planet. What about "take some water on"? @TRomano
    – Kinzle B
    Nov 22, 2015 at 13:54
  • When someone on a seafaring ship says "We're taking on water!" it means there's a significant leak.
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2015 at 13:55
  • "Bring water aboard" is more common, I think, than "take on water", when the meaning is to stock up on potable water.
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2015 at 13:56
  • It's been a long trip. We could do with some more water. (It would behoove us to replenish our stock of water.)
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2015 at 13:59

3 Answers 3

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"Take on" is an idiomatic usage with several meanings. When referring to goods, as in the phrase take on board, it's often (but not exclusively) naval or aeronautical and means "to bring something aboard ship."

In your example sentence, the word "board" is elided but is strongly implied. This is perfectly acceptable in colloquial dialogue, as the intended placement of the water (e.g. aboard the ship) is clear from the context.

In other contexts, you might:

  • Pack luggage to take on board an airplane.
  • Take on (or pick up) supplies during a long trip.
  • Hear a new idea that you take on board when you internalize it.
  • Watch a jet plane take on fuel.
  • Drive a bus that takes on passengers at each stop.
  • Ride a train that stops to take on freight.

In many cases, you can think of "take on board" as having a similar meaning to "load" (e.g. loading supplies, loading passengers, loading freight) but the flavor of the phrase is different. As is often the case with any idiomatic phrase, it can be hard to generalize when the phrase sounds correct to the native ear, and when it sounds like an awkward or ungrammatical construction.

In the context of movie dialogue, especially when characters like Riddick or the military tend to speak in clipped but colorful phrases, the text you quoted would make sense and sound appropriate to the characters. On the other hand, it wouldn't be appropriate in the context of how to load your car before or during a long trip. As with all idioms, your mileage may vary.

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  • Should note that a naval ship which is "taking on water" often means that it has sprung a leak, which is a very different connotation. (Probably wouldn't apply to a spacecraft as in this case, but if you're going to bring up naval jargon, you should be complete.) Nov 22, 2015 at 17:33
  • @DarrelHoffman No. I was pretty clear that the idiom I was referring to was about taking goods on board, and not other grammatical or idiomatic usages. By all means, please feel free to add another answer that addresses other usages, although they are not within the intent or scope of the original question.
    – CodeGnome
    Nov 22, 2015 at 21:13
  • Since the word "board" is elided, can I say "take water/fuel/freight on" instead? @CodeGnome
    – Kinzle B
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:37
  • @KinzleB It wouldn't sound right. The idiom is to "take on <something>", but when you split the phrase with the noun in the middle it might be something that is understood by your audience, but the listener would probably assume it was an unintentional transposition. You could certainly "take freight aboard", but to "take freight on" sounds like you meant to say "take on freight". Your mileage may vary.
    – CodeGnome
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:47
  • @CodeGnome Thank you! What's meant by "Your mileage may vary"? I take 'mileage' here to mean 'advantage'?
    – Kinzle B
    Nov 24, 2015 at 16:08
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I don't know this film at all, so I'm just guessing. But I see a spaceship in the background, and the dialogue speaks of "a long haul" = a long journey, so I suspect that "take on" here reflects naval use: when a vessel makes landfall after a long voyage it "takes on" whatever stores are needed to replenish what has been used on the voyage.

All foreign vessels bound coastwise must report and enter, upon arrival at any port, within the time required by law; and that if they take on stores, the masters must file sworn manifests of the same and clear before departure, in the manner specified by section 4367 , Revised Statutes, or by section 4197, Revised Statutes. —U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, Synopsis of the Treasury Decision Under Customs and Other Laws, 1896

We stayed on that job for 26 days and then were told to go to Anchorage and take on stores and fuel etc. We spent two days taking on fuel, fresh water and stores and were told to head for San Francisco. —Bob Covey, Memories of a Boatman, 2010.

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Regarding the leak meaning. It's really literally the same. A leaking boat will take on water (water that was outside the boat is now inside or on board). A boat that takes on water in order to replenish it's stores will also involve taking water that was not on the boat and that water is now inside or on board the boat.

There could really be no confusion over the meaning as context would entirely determine it. For instance, if a leaky boat were in port to also take on water stores, one situation would likely retain the "take on water" phrasing (likely the restoring of supplies) and the other situation would likely be referred to under the rubric of a "leak."

Now suppose at the same time, there was a question about confidential information getting out to competitors while in port! Oh my.

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