July 2, 2015

Weekly Language Usage Tips: brought or took

Posted in brought/took at 6:58 am by dlseltzer

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding the use of “brought” in place of “took.” Why do so many people say “I brought the wine to my mom’s” rather than “I took the wine to my mom’s”? It seems like an obvious mistake to me and can’t believe how many people seem to make it. My 3 year old son came back from daycare with this wrong usage of “brought” so I think his teachers are using it too. Ugh?

We’ve talked about ‘bring’ and ‘take’ before, so let’s talk about ‘brought’ and ‘took.’ Really, the same rules apply. Whether to use ‘brought‘ or ‘took’ depends upon directionality: ‘brought’ suggests movement toward the writer or speaker, and ‘took’ suggests movement away.

I think that is generally the case, but, I don’t think that this ‘mistake’ is as obvious as the reader says. I think that, over time, the definitions have evolved a bit, and there are some subtle distinctions these days. Admittedly, what I am going to say has everything to do with the way in which I use these words, but I am willing to go out on a limb with this one.

I would say, “I brought the wine to my mom’s” if I wanted to indicate some ownership of the wine—it was my contribution. I would use ‘took’ in a more neutral way, say, in response to the question: where is the wine? Or where did the wine go? I would say, “Oh, I took it to my mom’s.” That doesn’t imply any ownership or possession.

Now, this may be an outgrowth of the idiom, “What do you bring to the party?” According to FreeDictionary.com this idiom refers to “have something useful you can offer in a particular situation.” In this context, ‘bring’ clearly has to do with a personal contribution. So maybe, my definition of ‘brought’ as having to do with a contribution stems from that.

So, let’s try a more neutral sentence using brought/took.

The mail man brought/took the magazines to the homeowner down the street.

Here, I would use ‘took’ if the mail man was just doing his job. He stopped at the house next door, and then he took the magazines to the person down the street.

I would use ‘brought’ if I wanted to imply that there was something more personal—perhaps a sense of generosity—involved.

The mail man went out of his way and brought the magazines to the homeowner down the street.

So, I guess that, for me, the definitions are evolving. ‘Brought’ brings a sense of personal contribution. What do you think? What can you bring to this discussion? Am I going too far? In the meantime, I am going to take an aspirin.

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