Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 25: Take it or Bring it

In the past few weeks, Grammar Grater received a couple of messages from listeners about the use of the words bring and take. There actually is a grammatical difference between these words, but it's often difficult for people to explain it—or defend their stance.

A big reason for that is because the decision to use bring or take depends so much on your point of view. If Sally is visiting her parents' home and borrows a DVD, she is bringing something home with her. From the perspective of her father who lent her the video, something is being taken away. From their respective perspectives, Sally and her father are both correct.

According to the "Gregg Reference Manual" by William A. Sabin, bring indicates motion toward the speaker. Take indicates motion away from the speaker. For example:
Please bring the reports with you when you come to the office tomorrow.

Please take this library book to the library the next time you go there.
Because so much depends on the point of view of the speaker, the rule of bring and take is truly in the eye of the beholder—that is, the speaker.

The difference can be really hard to distinguish at times. In the book "Woe is I" by Patricia O'Conner, O'Conner writes:
"There are grey areas where the bringing and the taking aren't so clear. The answer depends on your perspective—on which end of the journey you're talking about, the origin or the destination."
So if Darrell carries a dessert to Lisa's party, he'll likely talk about the dessert from the point of view of its destination—Lisa's house—and say bring.
Hi, Lisa. I've brought some dessert to share.
If leftovers remain when the party is over, Lisa and Darrell will talk about the dessert from different perspectives—so they'll use bring and take in their appropriate contexts.
Please feel free to take some extra dessert home with you.
Sure, I'd be glad to bring some home with me.
And while it's probably best to avoid confusing them in formal, written English, it's not worth losing sleep if you or other people flip bring and take in more casual situations. After all, a look in the Oxford Dictionary of Current English gives a primary definition for bring that reads, "carry or accompany to a place." Meanwhile, its fourth definition (out of 21) for the word take reads, "carry or bring with one."

And let's not forget idiomatic expressions such as "you can't take it with you" and "take it or leave it." There's no sense revising those.

Ultimately, a lot about bring and take depends on point of view and instinct. Patricia O'Conner may sum it up best when she writes, "[Relax], and say what sounds most natural. You'll probably be right."

Sources: Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin; Woe is I by Patricia O'Conner; Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

Music from this Episode: "Take it or Leave it" by The Strokes; "So I Begin" by Galleon; "Happy Trails" by Van Halen; "Bring it On Home to Me" by Sam Cooke.

May 2009
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