Take too

It's a matter of perspective

“It’s going to rain, so take an umbrella,” the weather forecaster says. “Shouldn’t that be bring?” a correspondent writes. “I was taught that you take something somewhere, but if it’s coming toward you or staying with you, bring it.”

It’s wonderful how some childhood grammar lessons stay with you, long after you’ve forgotten the teacher’s name. But enough people were apparently too busy throwing spitballs to listen to the teacher, or have forgotten it, that a refresher is in order.

Whether you “bring” or “take” something is mostly about comings and goings. As The Chicago Manual of Style puts it: “The simple question is, where is the action directed? If it’s toward you, use bring {bring home the bacon}. If it’s away from you, use take {take out the trash}. You take (not bring) your car to the mechanic.”

But what if it’s hard to tell where the action is directed? Then you have to think more about perspective: If you are deciding what papers to transport to a meeting, the selection process is deciding what to take out of the large pile; the focus is on the origin of the papers, the pile. Once you know what you’re transporting, you’re bringing them to the meeting; the focus is their destination, the meeting.

And the perspective also changes if you’re talking about the future. As Mignon Fogarty, “Grammar Girl,” puts it, “When you start writing about the future and have to choose between ‘bring’ and ‘take,’ imagine where you are in the scenario, and make your word choice based on that location.”

But that umbrella is not coming or going; it’s staying with you (at least until you leave it on the bus). In that case, you can pretty much take it or bring it.

Garner’s Modern American Usage indicates that enough people have trouble with “take” and “bring” that the “misuse” of “bring” when “take” is meant is at Stage 3 of the five-stage Language-Change Index, meaning using it would earn you a “C” in that grammar class

In financial contexts, though, it’s more usual to “bring” a bond to market, even though the institution is really “taking” it there. Many other idioms also seem to buck the “rules.”

While we’re there, the other participles for “take” are “took” and “taken.” “Tooken” is heard enough that Garner’s lists it at Stage 1—absolutely wrong, but on the radar. For “bring,” the only other participle is “brought.” Not “brang” or “brung,” which haven’t even reached Stage 1, yet.

If you’re ready to take on the fine distinctions here, just tell someone to bring it on. He’ll understand, and if he doesn’t, just take it on the chin.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: , , , , ,