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

05 Dec 2009


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.”


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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2 thoughts on “Bring vs. Take. You only think you know how to use these.

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

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