Midday English Challenge: Choose and Decide (Part 2 of 2!)

Here’s Part 2!

Decision and Choice

The noun forms of the words by themselves are very similar.  But when we collocate them with different verbs, they can change a lot.

First, let’s look at some collocations that are the same:

  • Make a decision/choice

These two collocations are basically the same.  They mean to decide or choose.

So… aren’t they the same as “decide” or “choose”?  Not exactly.  First, there’s a grammatical difference.  The collocation “make a decision/choice” already has a verb (make) and an objection (a decision/choice), so it is a complete sentence.  However, “choose” or “decide” are verbs.  They usually require an object, so you have to be specific.  What did you choose/decide?

  • I made a choice. O
  • I made a decision. O
  • I chose.  X
  • I decided. X

Unless there is already context, the last two are strange.

So when should you use the collocation “make a choice/decision” instead of the verbs?  There are two cases:

1. The specific choice or decision is not important, not clear or you don’t want to say exactly what it is.

2. When you want to focus on the act of choosing or deciding instead of the thing chosen or decided.

Consider this sample sentence: “In life, sometimes you have to make hard decisions.”

What kind of decisions is the speaker talking about?  Well, that’s not important.  What is important is that some decisions come up, and you have to act.  Also, it’s not clear.  Everyone’s life is different, so what kind of decisions depends on the person.  Also, the speaker doesn’t need to say exactly what kind of decisions.  If the speaker does, then he’s not talking about people in general, he’s only talking about certain people.

So are “choice” and “decision” always the same?  No.  In fact, they are usually quite different.  Consider this collocation

  • Have a choice
  • Have a decision

Both are correct, but they are slightly different.  Choice sounds positive, decision sounds negative.  What does that mean though?

Consider these example sentences:

  • “You don’t have to take that job.  You have a choice.”
  • “Take the promotion or move to Hawaii.  You have a decision.”

How does the word choice in the first sentence feel?  It feels freeing!  It feels empowering!  Having a choice means that you are not forced to do something, you have other options.  This is a good thing!

How does decision in the second sentence feel?  It feels limiting!  It feels restricting!  Having a decision means that you must select one option even if you don’t want to or even if it’s hard or painful.  This is a tough thing!

Now that you know that, consider the collocation “have (so many) choices/decisions” in the following example sentences:

  • “Look at the menu!  We have so many choices!”
  • “Weddings are so complicated… flowers, dresses, music, food, drinks… we have so many decisions (to make)!”

Again, which one sounds more relaxing, more fun?  I think the first one does.  Which one sounds a little more stressful?  I think the second one does.

So consider the collocation “give you a choice”.  Giving someone something… sounds like a nice thing, right?  That’s why “give someone a decision” doesn’t sound right.  Here’s an example:

  • “Look, you can go to jail for life, or you can confess your crime.  I’m giving you a choice.”

On the other hand, “put you to a decision” makes sense.  “Put someone to something” means to force someone into a situation, which sounds negative, so “decision” is more appropriate.  Here’s an example:

  • The mugger put me to a decision.  He said I can give him all my money, or I can lose my life.

So, in summary, choices have positive connotations.  They are freeing and empowering.  They provide opportunities.  You could say they are expanding.  Decisions are limiting and restricting.  They force us to select something.  You could say they are eliminating.

Whew!  I hope that helps you guys.  As always, feel free to make comments or ask questions, either here or on twitter.  Take care!  I’ll see you guys later (probably Sunday, I’m gonna be really busy the next couple days!).

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