Episode 61: June 12, 2007
Grammar Girl here.
Today's topic is bring versus take.
Many listeners have asked me to talk about today's topic. Here's a caller:
Hi Grammar Girl. It's Clint in Chester, VA. I have two children reaching high school age and they still don't know the difference between bring and take. Can you put that on your web? Thanks.
Thanks to Clint and the others who asked similar questions. I also found a comment from a man named Farrel especially interesting. He is a foreigner and his impression is that everyone in his unspecified home country knows the difference between bring and take, and it's just we Americans who don't seem to be able to get it right. I don't know if that's true, but I'll take his word for it and try to do my part to fix the problem.
What is the Difference Between Bring and Take?
Whether you use bring or take depends on your point of reference for the action. The quick and dirty tip is that you ask people to bring things to the place you are, and you take things to the place you are going. As one listener named Simone put it, you bring things here and take things there. For example, I would ask Aardvark to bring Squiggly to my party next week, and then Aardvark would call Squiggly and ask, “May I take you to Grammar Girl's party?”
I am asking Aardvark to bring Squiggly because I am at the destination—from my perspective, Aardvark is bringing someone here. Aardvark is offering to take Squiggly because he is transporting someone to a remote destination—from Aardvark's perspective, he is taking someone there.
Here are two examples that help me remember.
First, think of a restaurant where you can get food to go. It's often informally called getting “take out.” When you get take-out food, you're moving the food from your location—the restaurant—to somewhere else—a destination. And it's take-out food, not bring-out food. You're taking the food to a destination.
Second, if I'm sitting at home feeling lazy, wishing dinner would appear, I would say, “I wish someone would bring me dinner.” I imagine Pat stopping at a restaurant and getting dinner to go. From my perspective, he is bringing me dinner because dinner is coming to my location.
Exceptions to the Rules
I suspect that one reason some people are confused about bring and take is that there are many exceptions to the basic rules. For example, idioms such as bring home the bacon and take a bath and phrasal verbs such as bring up, bring about, take down, and take after don't comply with the rule that bring means to cause something to go to the speaker and take means to cause something to go away from the speaker.
Nevertheless, when your point is that an object or person is moving from one location to another, the rule is that things are brought to the speaker and taken away from the speaker. You ask people to bring things to you, and you take things to other people. You ask people to bring you coffee, and you offer to take the dishes to the kitchen. You tell people to bring you good news, and you take your camera to the beach. Remember Simone's trick: you bring things here and take things there, and take and there both start with the letter t.
As an aside, the past tense of bring is brought, as in, “He brought me flowers.” In some regions people say brung or brang, but it isn't standard English.
What About Come and Go?
Finally, an interesting note is that the words come and go follow rules that are similar to those for bring and take. Come is like bring: you ask people to come here--to come to where you are. And go is like take: you tell people to go away—to move away from your location. Aardvark and Squiggly will come to my party, and when Aardvark calls Squiggly, he'll say, “Let's go to Grammar Girl's party.”
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage makes an interesting point that when people are imagining they are in a different location, they can use bring in a way that seems wrong, but that is actually correct from their mental perspective. For example, if I am planning a trip and I say to Aardvark, “You should bring suntan lotion to the beach,” Merriam-Webster's says this is correct if I am already imagining myself at the beach. I don't agree with this notion because it forces the listener/reader to make assumptions about what you are imagining, but I thought it was worth noting that credible sources allow for what appear to be rule-breaking uses.