Bring vs. Take. You only think you know how to use these.

So, here’s the thing. You probably think you know how to use bring and take. I bring books here. I take books there. Right? Easy smeasy.

You “take baby wipes with you” to the store, because you are at the house and you are going to go to the store. Now, if your wife is already at the store, she would say “bring the baby wipes with you to the store,” because she is at the store and you are bringing the baby wipes to her. Bring indicates you are carrying something in the direction of the speaker. Take indicates that you are carrying something “over there.”

Take => there. Bring => here.

Most people would get those usages right.

But, it turns out to get a lot more complicated, pretty quickly. For example, do you say, “I’ll take books home from the library”? Or do you say, “I’ll bring books home from the library?”

Huh. Well, it turns out, it depends on where you are when you’re talking and/or where you imagine yourself to be in the future…

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For example, if you are at home, then you say, “I’ll bring books home from the library.” If you’re at the library, you say, “I’ll take books home from the library.” Well, that is, unless you’re imaging yourself at home, in which case apparently, you can also say, “I’ll bring books home from the library.”

What?

The good thing is, most of us have sort of an innate instinct for the usage. (At least we hope so!).
Let’s take this instance: You are at your house and you’re asking a friend to deliver a purse to you. So you say, “Bring the purse to my house.” If you said, “Take the purse to my house,” it would imply that you weren’t at the house.

So obviously the two words aren’t interchangeable. Darn!

But sometimes they are. For example, if Mary is travelling with books and going to the store and the direction of movement is irrelevant, you can use either bring or take. So, “Mary took the book to the store,” or “Mary brought the book to the store,” are both OK. Unless of course you were AT the store, in which case, you’d say “Mary brought the book here, to the store.” NOT “Mary took the book here, to the store.”

If you’d like to get well and truly confused, read grammar girl’s post on bring vs. take. Even she got brain freeze after the 40+ comments on her blog post. “Next week,” she posts, “I’m definitely going to choose something more straightforward.

The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage apparently gave up too. “A surprisingly large number of usage commentators have felt it incumbent upon themselves to explain this subtlety [of bring vs. take] to adults. The basic point they make is this: bring implies movement toward the speaker, and take implies movement away. It is a point well made, and it holds for all cases to which it applies. It does not, alas, apply for all cases of actual use of these verbs.”

So what about you guys? Anyone want to try to make a simple rule here?

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10 Comments to “Bring vs. Take. You only think you know how to use these.”

  1. Lån says:

    This is a common mistake not just to the English language, but to other languages as well. I remember what my grammar teacher told the class once on how you use “in” and “on” in a sentence that has a person/s inside a vehicle or form of transportation. He said if someone can walk or stand inside that vehicle you would use the word “on” in the sentence. For example, “I am in a car heading south.” You don’t say “I’m on a car heading south.” On the other hand you would say, “I’m on a plane bound for New York.” Using, “I’m in the plane…” would not really be wrong, but then again it depends on the point of view. :) So what do you think?

  2. Huh, gee, I’m glad English is my first language. I would never remember all this stuff! I guess it makes sense that you would say “in” for small vehicles, since you have the feeling of being confined inside something? For example, if it was a small cropduster plane, I’d probably say “get in the plane.” If it was a commercial airline, I’d probably say “get on the plane.”

    I tried to think of any exceptions to the sit/stand rule you mentioned, and the rule seems to be a pretty good one to me. I can’t think of any exceptions off the top of my head.

  3. Jane says:

    If “take” is a movement away from the speaker, why do we say, “May I take your order please”?

  4. Hi Jane,

    Well, that’s a good question. I think it would have to do with the general rule that you always “Take” something from another person, not Bring it. I’d never say, “Here, those books are heavy, let me bring them from you.” So, it’s the same sort of idea with the order. The server is taking the order from the customer.

    That being said, I agree that your question sort of destroys the general “Take –> There” “Bring –> Here” attempt to simplify the rule.

    Geesh — exceptions upon exceptions.

    You could write a book of exceptions on these two words!

  5. Anne Smith says:

    So, “Mary took the book to the store,” or “Mary brought the book to the store,” are both OK

    In my book (sorry for the pun), it is definitely NOT okay to say “Mary brought the book to the store” in your example. Only if Mary were at the store would this be correct.

    I have been in US for 42 years, and the incorrect use of “bring” and “take” still drives me bananas! Even my daughters — both strictly brought up to use correct grammar in speech, would taunt me with “can you bring me to the mall, Mummy”! Arrrggggghhhh.

  6. [...] debates on bring/take usage rage across the blogosphere. The consensus is that there isn’t a consensus on the correct way to use [...]

  7. kay says:

    One exception to the in/on rule is you ride in a car but on a motorcyle, but in this case the on actually refers to being on top of not inside of the vehicle.

  8. Lewis Greenwald says:

    Maybe we say “May I take your order?” because it really means “May I take your order to the kitchen?”

  9. John says:

    “If “take” is a movement away from the speaker, why do we say, “May I take your order please”?”

    I know I’m late on answering this, but, you just answered your own question. The waiter is writing your order down and taking it AWAY from you and giving it to the cook. It wouldn’t make sense to “bring” you your own order. I thought that was pretty obvious.

  10. Vishal Mehta says:

    Its really amazing how simply you differentate two difficult words.

  11. John Craychee says:

    A friend just set a link to this site to me because he knows that the use of bring vs take is a pet peeve of mine. Here’s the thing, although you state that “The good thing is, most of us have sort of an innate instinct for the usage.”, my observation is that virtually nobody has any such innate instinct. It seems to me that everyone simply uses “bring” all the time. I hear statements like “I’m going to bring it to Joe” (when the speaker is standing next to me and Joe is somewhere else) ALL THE TIME! It drives me buggy!

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