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At lunch recently, my friend was going to the counter to pick up our order. As she left the table and headed toward the counter, I shouted, “Take some napkins.” She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to correct my grammar: “Don’t you mean bring some napkins?” she asked. Hmmm ... good question. Which is it: take or bring?

In truth, that’s a trick question. It’s really a matter of perspective. No, really—that’s not an attempt to be wishy-washy about the answer. The key to understanding the use of bring and take is perspective. Take is used when you are moving away from something, and bring is used when you are moving toward something. Simply put: You take when you are going and you bring when you are coming.

 Please BRING that book over here so that I may look at it.

Would you remember to TAKE this plate with you when you leave?

OK—so who was right at lunch? Was I correct in telling my friend to take some napkins, or should I have asked her to bring them? In fact, in this case (and in many like it), both options are possible. From a perspective that focused on the counter (i.e., the way I saw it), I was asking her to take the napkins with her when she was leaving the counter—i.e., when she was going away from the counter. From a perspective that focused on our table (i.e., the way my friend saw it), she was saying she should bring the napkins with her as she was coming toward the table. Depending upon the perspective, her action could be viewed either as a going away from (the counter) or as a coming toward (the table). And as I noted above, we take when we are going, and we bring when we are coming.

In common, spoken American English, the terms are used almost interchangeably. But in formal, written English, it can be more important to be grammatically precise. If that’s the goal, remember that it’s take when you are going and bring when you are coming. Take that simple rule with you, and you should be fine. Or is it bring that simple rule with you? That, too, depends upon your perspective.


This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here under a new date.