Taking and Bringing

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Carol Roberts Smith asks:

Why can’t we ‘take’ anything anywhere anymore? Why do we have to ‘bring’ it. It sounds weird to me to say bring or brought. ‘I brought lunch to work’ I can live with, but ‘I have to bring this back to the store’ makes no sense to me. I’m taking it back to the store one way or another. Help me understand please. I notice it on TV a lot now too. Thanks!

Both bring and take have numerous meanings.

One can, for example, take medicine, take the Fifth, take a liking to, take it on the chin, take a partner, take in a stray, take up for a friend, take out a date, and take an oath.

One can bring to bear, bring tears to the eyes, bring something up, and challenge someone to bring it on.

The OED entry for take lists 93 numbered definitions. The one for bring has 27 numbered definitions. The definition that concerns us here is Number One:

bring: 1. To cause to come along with oneself; to fetch. It includes ‘lead’ or ‘conduct’ (F. amener) as well as ‘carry’ (F. apporter); it implies motion towards the place where the speaker or auditor is, or is supposed to be, being in sense the causal of come; motion in the opposite direction is expressed by take (Fr. emmener, emporter).  

When the words are used to express the conveying of something or someone to or from a given point, the choice between bring and take is clear:

If the person or thing is going away from where you are, use take. If the object or person is coming to where you are, use bring.

Some examples of the correct use of bring and take:

I’m taking this blender back to the store.
I’m taking my girlfriend to the movies.
Please bring your wife to the party.
Don’t forget to bring me that book next time you visit.

Jacquelyn Landis has also written a DWT post on “bring” and “take” for DWT.

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13 thoughts on “Taking and Bringing”

  1. “Learn” and “teach” also have a directional aspect and are misused in similar ways to “bring” and “take” but even though they have fewer idiomatic uses to confuse people, I come across learn/teach errors far more often than bring/take ones.

  2. Hi,
    Bring and take are akin to immigrate and emigrate.
    One might say ” When I immigrated to the USA I brought my violin with me”

    Au contraire, “When I emigrated from Germany I took my violin with me.”

    Certain languages don’t make such distinctions—such as between come and go. My Croatian friend used to say things like “When I come to Denver next week I will see Harriet.” He spoke better English than most Americans, but nevertheless he failed to master the English difference between come and go.

  3. @Phil: Come/go is a little more complex than the other pairs discussed.

    For example:

    If your Croatian friend was talking to someone already in Denver, it would be fine to say “When I come to Denver next week”.

    Also, I could ask you to “come to my party” even though neither of us is there yet; asking you to “go to my party” would sound far too dictatorial.

  4. I had a disagreement with a coworker a few years ago. I saw his scooter so I asked stupidly “You take a scooter to work?” He responded “No, I _bring _ a scooter to work. Learn to use your own language.” My retort? “Did you carry it under your arm as you came, then?”

    Sometimes, “take” has a specific meaning and sometimes people use “bring” because they’re viewing the even from another person’s perspective.

  5. @Daeng Bo: I don’t think you asked stupidly, though your colleague’s response is odd, as you wittily pointed out.

    “Take” has an idiomatic uses: people talk about “taking a ride”, “taking the bus” and “taking a chance”.

  6. I have a problem with bring and take too…except that I use them incorrectly according to my husband who is from the South and who uses those words perfectly correctly. When I first moved here from New York I heard this quite often from “countrified people” and now thinking about this I realize the utility in using the “country way” of idiomatic grammer. I used to hear and still do…”I’m carrying my brother to the doctor”. I used to imagine how big a burden that must have been for so little a person until I realized that carry was their invention that forever more simplified the bring and take problem.

  7. What about “disappeared” and “gone/went missing?” Example: “The little girl went missing about 10am yesterday” instead of “The little girl disappeared yesterday?” The “went missing” phrase seems to be relatively new and grates on my ears.

  8. The rule isn’t as simple as you make out: that only works in the present. When speaking of past or future time, it’s not about where the speaker or listener are, or even where they were or will be; e.g., contra Phil Dragonetti, his examples are both perfectly correct with either took or brought! The meaning is subtly different: in “when I emigrated from Germany I took my violin with me” he’s talking about an event entirely in the past–the speaker took his violin with him when he left Germany, but may or may not still have it at the time he relates the incident, for example; in “when I emigrated from Germany I brought my violin with me” he’s speaking of a past event which still has relevance in the present: he’s explaining why he has the violin, etc.

  9. @Bernice: “gone missing” and “went missing” have been in common usage all my life in England. From reading various language blogs etc, I’ve discovered that it’s relatively new in the US and widely disliked there. Here are a couple of links:


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