Yesterday, a rather disturbing octothorpe was trending on Twitter:
When I read that, I had to leave my desk and console myself by going to make a cup of tea. I felt low.
Funerals are pretty depressing, but that had nothing to do with my despair. What upsets me, is that ninety-nine percent of people reading this will have absolutely no idea what is grammatically amiss with that hashtag.
If the vast majority of the population don’t think that it is a grammatical monstrosity to tell a person not to bring something with them rather than not to take something with them, it means that the rule is ebbing out. This is what depresses me. The whole point in language rules is that they give us tools with which to craft understanding. Grammar is like a brush set in that sense. When we forget to use certain rules, they fade and die. I like the fact that my choice of verb in any given situation allows me to imply a directional quality to what I am saying. The trouble it, nobody else seems to appreciate it.
So what’s my deal with bring and take?
The bring/take confusion is far far worse in America than it is in England. Brits get it right more often if only because they are used to hearing one verb used in one context more than the other. I think it is familiarity of phrase rather than a conscious attempt at correctness. In America, there is absolutely no distinction, and people are flabbergasted when I try and explain that bring and take are not interchangeable verbs. It is odd, because Americans are generally quite good at affect and effect—a verb/noun confusion that I feel is so much more valid if for no other reason than they sound so similar.
I often wonder why; out of all the grammar and punctuation errors that I could chose to be ridiculously punctilious about, why does the misuse of the verb to bring make me want to go and sit alone in a dark room with a years supply of PG Tips and a Jane Austen novel. Why do I care so much? I can adopt a “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude about some many other things (apart from the use of lowercase in titles; the obliteration of the who/whom distinction; the use of of instead of have; irregardless; the use of the word literally to mean figuratively; using less rather than fewer; writing alot rather than a lot; and using I as the object of a sentence or clause rather than me in an attempt to sound posh).
Rightly or wrongly, whenever I see or hear bring used instead of take it feels as if an umpa-lumpa swooped in out of nowhere and slapped me around the face with a wet fish: I am left feeling oddly violated, a little nauseous, and have to battle an almost uncontrollable desire to curl up into a ball on the floor and weep. After the initial insult has dulled enough for me to compose myself, I’ll look around at the faces of others expecting to share a moment of shared acknowledgement of the atrocity which we have just witnessed. That’s when the greater horror hits: the understanding that not only does nobody else give a shit, but that nobody else even noticed.
Imagine that you are sitting with a group of people casually chatting about something or other. A streaker runs into the room, dances on the table, then exits via the window. Despite the fact that everyone just had a compete stranger dangle his junk in front of them, everyone carries on as if nothing happened at all. That is how this feels to me.
Another example; I shit you not, this conversation happens almost every time Matt and I go out:
Matt: Which wine should be bring with us? Red or white?
Me: Babe, we can’t possibly bring wine with us.
Matt: What do you mean, don’t we have any?
Me: We have plenty. We can’t bring it with us, we would have to take it with us.
Matt: (Sigh) We’ll bring beer then.
Having been with me for seven years, Matt is used to me. I try not to be so obnoxious when with other people, and ultimately wind up biting my tongue and twitching a lot.
If you are interested, these are the rules:
Whether you bring or take is dependent on the point of reference for the action in question.
When to use bring:
You are in one place. Someone else is in another place. You want that other person to bring you an object.
The object is moving towards you from a place that you are not at.
This is like the word “come.” If you are in one place and your friend is in another, you might instruct them to “come here.” You would not instruct them to “go here.”
When to use take:
You are in one place. Someone else is in another place. You have the object you move the object with you away from your original location. You are taking the object with you.
General rule: You ask people to bring things to you, and you take things to other people.
This is like the word “go.”If you are in one location and moving towards another, you are going to that place.
Some tips on how to work it out:
1. Perspective of the word use.
This is the easiest way to determine bring versus take. Where is the speaker? If the object in question is being moved away from the place in which the speaker is to another place, it is being taken.
In the come and go example, you can see that you use go when you are the person moving away from your current location and towards another location. I am going to school. I am going to the supermarket. I am going to lose my shit.
The verb come is used if you are moving towards the person you are speaking to: “Here I come to save the day!”
The verb go is used if you are moving away from the person you are speaking to: “I suppose I had better get off the couch and go and save the world again.”
Example: I am explaining to someone that at some point in the future I intend on carrying a hippopotamus with me to my friend Sally.
“I am taking this hippopotamus to Sally”= correct.
“I am bringing this hippopotamus to Sally”= incorrect.
What is the difference between the speakers current location and the location in which they need to be in order to perform an action.
Someone else brings something to the place where you are at the present time. If it is a future place in question, the verb is to take.
Example: I am in the living room with another person and I wish to instruct that other person to transport a basket of live scorpions to the kitchen.
“Take this basket of live scorpions to the kitchen” = correct.
“Bring this basket of live scorpions to the kitchen” = incorrect.
What do you do when you want food and you want it now: you go to a restaurant and you order “take out.”You are taking out because you are taking the food from its current location (the restaurant) to another place (your house).
However, if you phone in and ask for a pizza to be delivered to your house, you are ordering the delivery bloke to “take out” for you and in doing so he is bringing you your food.
Likewise, if you are in a restaurant, the food is brought to your table, but at the end of the meal your money is taken from you.