I’m being up front about this one, folks. I’m being pedantic and I know it.
Once again we’re looking at the difference between formal usage and informal, or so it seems from what I can gather. The words in question are partake and participate.
Strictly speaking (you’ll notice I said “strictly”), to partake in something is to take a share of it. It’s most often used when speaking of a meal, or of something in which those who participate literally take something. (There’s that other word . . .)
To participate in something means to take part in it (not take a part of it). We participate in social media conversations. We participate in intramural sports. We participate in choral singing. Nothing’s being taken; we’re taking part, we’re spending time and energy.
The Encarta World English Dictionary shows “participate” as the third (last) possible meaning for the word “partake.” That means it’s used in that manner, but it’s not the best meaning/usage. “Partake,” however, does not appear anywhere in the definitions for “participate.” “To take part in” does not necessarily equate to “to take part of.” (Pesky prepositions and their nuances . . .)
Strictly speaking, the title of this blog post should be “Participating in pedantry.” I’m not taking anything away. I’m taking time and energy to compose it, proofread it, and post it. I’m participating in an activity. And, were I to be copyediting someone’s work and find “partake” used where “participate” is the better choice, I would note it as such in a comment. It really can matter. Not always, but often.
Now, I’m off to plan dinner, of which my husband and I will partake later tonight. (We will participate in the act of dining, and partake of the meal.) Pedantry is optional, but available.