Which Word Wednesday: Bring vs. Take

By January 26, 2011 language No Comments

In real estate, the rule is location, location, location.

That rule is also helpful for the word quandary in this week’s Which Word Wednesday discussion between the word bring and take. Location is key, because it helps you decide which word fits for the meaning you intend to convey.

Here’s how the Oxford American Dictionary defines them:

bring :: verb
come to a place with (someone or something)

take :: verb
remove (someone or something) from a particular place

Both are verbs implying the action toward someone or something. Which one do we use? Well, this is where location becomes king.

According to Mark Davidson in Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage: “Bring involves movement of an object toward the speaker. Take involves any movement not toward the speaker.”1

The location of the speaker determines when you use bring or take. For example, when hosting a gathering, you would ask your guests to bring a fruitcake to share. You want that fruitcake to come toward you, the speaker. And when attending a gathering, you would take your grandma’s special recipe fruitcake to impress all your friends. The fruitcake is going away from you, toward your friends.

Sounds easy enough . . . but quite often I find myself saying something like this: I’m going to bring my grandma’s special recipe fruitcake to the party.

Is this incorrect? According to Davidson, I’m saying bring but mean take—the fruitcake I’m taking is going with me but toward the party.

But wait—look again at the OAD definition. It says bring means to come to a place with someone or something. In this case, I am coming to a party with a fruitcake.

hmmm . . . and to make matters worse, my other sources seem to contradict the OAD definition:

Ron Evans says: “Bring implies carrying, leading, or transporting from a distance to the place where the speaker or agent is or will be” and “take implies carrying, leading, or transporting to a place away from where the speaker or agent is or will be.”2

David Dowling says: “Bring means to carry something toward some place” and “take means to carry something away from some place.”3

And debates on bring/take usage rage across the blogosphere. The consensus is that there isn’t a consensus on the correct way to use these words. Most experts settle the matter and say that bring or take can be used depending on the intent.

Helpful, huh? I guess that’s why it’s an unsettled debate.

[polldaddy poll=4450316]

What’s my WWW verdict? I’m keeping location king, at least when I’m writing. When I’m speaking . . . well, who knows what will come out of my mouth—I’ll still be bringing my fruitcake.

What’s your verdict? Does the bring/take usage debate keep you awake at night? Share your comments and be sure to cast your vote in the poll.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Mark Davidson, Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 119.

2. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 33–34.

3. Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 50.

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