Submitted by Hairy Scot on October 6, 2012

“Bring” vs. “Take” differences in UK and American English

English (other than American English) has a clear differentiation between the two words. Both are about moving something. In “bring” the something of somebody is moved to where the speaker is currently situated. “Take” is used to indicate moving something or somebody to a place that the speaker is not currently at. I have heard and read examples of these two verbs being confused in a number of American movies and TV shows, and in a number of books by American authors. Jeffrey Deaver is one author guilty of this along with other flaws like misuse of perpendicular, another is George R R Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire series.

For example, in the UK a boy will say to a girl, “May I take you home”. Meaning “may I escort you to your home”, not “would you like to come back to my place”. Whereas in the US “May I bring you home” would be be more common. Similarly, a UK girl might say “Would you take me home please” as opposed to “Would you bring me home please”. Why does this confusion exist and persist?

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"English (other than American English) has a clear differentiation between the two words."

Ahem, there is a tendency for British English speakers to sound quite condescending in their "correction" of American English. The blurring of meaning in these two words also occurs closer to home. In Ireland, the two verbs are almost interchangeable, as in the US. So I would say it's not really that people are confused, but rather that there are different rules in different places.

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@ Eugene Ryder - I can assure you it cuts both ways on this forum. But I totally agree that getting into national corners is, as they say, not very helpful. And as you point out, this is not simply American usage, but is also popular in Ireland. And MWDEU has several instances from Shakespeare. But in terms of use in print, for example, it does seem more prevalent in the US than in the UK. (That's an observation, not a judgement)

As I understand it, this is quite a recent usage in the States and is by no means cut and dried in terms of acceptance. In fact all the criticism of it I've seen up to now has been on American websites, not from British sources. The standard line seems to be exactly the same in the US as in the UK - http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/bring-vers...

Incidentally foreign learners seem to have more problems with take and get, as in - I'll just go and take a pen.

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@Eugene Ryder
@Warsaw Will

I was being neither condescending nor nationalistic, merely making a point.
The first few sentences of my post are not my own words but are in fact quoted from:-
http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/3131...
It is some time since I last posted on PITE but I see not much has changed.
There is always someone who misses the point of a question and gets on his or her high horse about condescension or pedantry and bends over backwards to provide proof that there is in fact nothing wrong with the usage that is being questioned.
Having never been to Ireland, and having never seen an Irish movie or TV program, I cannot comment on usage there.
As I said I have heard and read examples in American films, programmes, and books.
Lastly, I was not attempting any correction, merely questioning how and why the "blurring of meaning" (as you put it) occurs.

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@Hairy Scot

English has become like Aussie Rules football.

Rule 1. There are no rules.
Rule 2. See Rule 1.

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"Blurring of meaning"??
A nice way of saying it's wrong?

If one hands someone a package that one wishes to be transported to the post office then one would say "take that to the post office", no "bring that to the post office".
On the other hand one could say "Meet me at the post office later and bring that with you".
Quite simple really.

Interesting to see MWDEU and Shakespeare mentioned in the same sentence.
Shakespeare's works are not noted for accuracy, but are oft quoted as being so.
Perhaps a few examples showing the play, act, and scene would enable such assertions to be examined.
It is unfortunate in language that common usage of an erroneous meaning, spelling, or pronunciation, all too often becomes the norm.

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@mediator:
I will bring thee where Mistress Anne Page is - Merry Wives of Windsor - Host - Act 2 Scene 3
in the morn I will bring you to your ship - The Tempest - Prospero - Act 5 Scene 1
Will you go to them? I will bring you thither - Romeo and Juliet - Nurse - Act3 Scene 2

You'll find them all here - http://shakespeare.mit.edu/

'Shakespeare's works are not noted for accuracy' - if you're talking about historical accuracy, I'd agree with you, but I think you're talking about language. Could you explain?

@Perfect Pedant - if that was true, nobody would understand each other. Of course there are rules, the natural underlying rules of the language, and 99% percent of them cause no problems at all. But occasionally things change, words change meanings, grammatical forms drop out of use. This has been happening throughout the whole history of the language.

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@Warsaw Will

All of what you say is of course true.
However there is, IMHO, a difference between "blurring of meaning" and reversal of meaning.
If there were no rules there would be chaos, but since there are rules why do so many get broken or bent?
I am sure all sci-fi buffs would be amazed if the little green man were to say "bring me to your leader".

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To get back to my original question:-

Why and how did this "blurring of meaning" originate?

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I want to say it is because the two words are so similar. Both are talking about movement and the movement of things. I don't have any sources as to how it happened, but maybe an extremely popular book or common everyday phrase influenced people without their knowing.

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Hi Hairy Scot - I don't think it was me who said blurring of meaning. And just to get things straight, I use bring and take the same way as you do, and teach my students to do likewise. But for me rules are not written in stone, and are not the same for all English speakers.

Many of the words we take for granted today have changed meaning over the centuries, and we can see certain grammatical forms being used less and less. There are already certain areas where AmE speakers and BrE speakers have different preferences - group nouns, use of the subjunctive, words like among(st), etc. This doesn't necessarily lead to the end of the world.

English has been constantly changing ever since the people of those different Germanic tribes started talking to each other. People have been 'bending' the rules right from the start - that's how the language came into existence. At what point do you freeze the language and say - Right, these are the rules. I'm afraid for me, language doesn't work like that.

No doubt these changes happen for all sorts of different reasons, and it would probably need a specialist to explain why. But in the case of 'bring' in the US, I seem to remember reading that it was quite widely used in TV ads. If that use becomes more general, then there is no problem with understanding, the rule has simply been modified, like others before it. And in any case, some commentators, like the Longman Dictionary of the English Language 1984, make the point that 'either verb can be used when the point of view is irrelevant' (MWDEU).

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Hi Warsaw Will,
It was Eugene who mentioned the blurring.
As I said, I do not dispute any of what you say. Language is a living thing and of course changes will occur. It is perhaps unfortunate that not all changes are for the better.
I was not questioning the rights or wrongs of using bring instead of take, I was merely seeking some pointers as to how and why that particular usage came into being.
There are some changes in which one can see some logic, but there are (again unfortunately) many more where logic is apparently absent.
Debating the rights and wrongs of AmE versus BrE, and even some of the changes that have crept into BrE over the last half century has become a futile exercise, mainly because when those of us who favour the more traditional (if that is the right word) interpretations put forward any case we are immediately accused out of hand of being pedantic, condescending, and prescriptive. Yet those who hold to the descriptive, free spelling school often fail to see the irony in the fact that they are so dogmatic about their point of view.
Because of all that I now post infrequently and when I do it is to ask a question rather than state an opinion.
I am very interested in how dialects and accents may have developed and would like to understand the reason and origin of the differences in pronunciation, spelling, and grammar that separate the various forms of English in use today.
EG: why words like stew, news, tune, duty, buoy, debut, are pronounced differently.

I could go on, but I'm sure you can by now see my point.

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I think the hirsute Caledonian makes a some very good points.
Typically those who cry pedant are also those who would have us deny the influence of the romance languages which lend a great deal of beauty and subtlety to English.
They would have us eschew all change, and all "latrinates" and revert to the "virgin" language which was developed from Friesland. In fact they would have us use Anglish and go around sounding like Wurzel Gummidge or some of the smallfolk from Game of Thrones.
This in itself is a delightful irony since the current day Fresians, in particular Ost Fresians, are the butt of humour throughout modern day Germany.
We even have one or two fans of free spelling and Anglish making use of the tung in this forum. That is something that some may find pretentious, if not amusing.
As Hairy Scot says, they are in their own way just as pedantic and prescriptive as those whom they decry.


NB
For some reason the spell checker in Firefox has flagged the following words as being in error:-
Caledonian latrinates Friesland Anglish smallfolk Fresians

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Perhaps there is no real blurring of meaning, and that that is why these two verbs have become interchangeable for some. In the example in the first post (Can I take/bring you home?), the meaning is clear, and if she says no it's probably not because of his grammar.

So what comes after these verbs helps to clarify the meaning while at the same time makeing the choice of verb less vital to the meaning. What does that learn us, then?

I had to change my name to get this comment in.

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Bring / take

Could this be another example of the German 'interference' in American English which also accounts for 'fill out' rather than 'fill in' and conditional 'If I would . . .' constructions? Bringen translates both ways.

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Interesting, Percy. It may explain why Michael Schumacher (who usually knows his stuff) always gets the third conditional wrong in interviews...

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'in the UK a boy will say to a girl, “May I take you home”' - oh yeah! in which century?
Rightly or wrongly most of the population of Britain would say "Can I take you home?"

You say take you, I say bring you
You say may I, I say can I
May I, can I, take you, bring you,
Let's call the whole thing of.

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"off" even.

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@bloops - nice variation on the song, and you're right about "can" for permission of course; "may" is seen as pretty formal nowadays. It reminds me of my schooldays long ago. If someone said - "Can I go to the toilet, please Sir", the teacher would invariably answer - "I don't know. Can you?"

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Percy has definitely put his finger on the root of the bring/take confusion. The influence of German/ Yiddish on colloquial American usage is colossal. The bring/take confusion is fairly simple to resolve: German has no separate word for "take" i.e. to convey something away from the speaker, instead using the directional prefixes hin- and her- to convey "away from me" and "toward me" respectively with the root verb bringen, the result being that most Americans use "bring" regardless of the direction. This has occasionally resulted in misunderstandings with my wife (I being a native Brit and she a full-blooded American) when she enquires whether I could possibly "bring" something to the office, leaving me in some doubt as to whether she means her office or mine. But this is only one of many possible misapprehensions. When I first came to this great country, I attempted to contact someone whose secretary informed me that he had "just stepped out" (apparently Americans don't just leave their offices) but that he would return "momentarily".(German Augenblicklich). I was tempted to ask whether he would be back long enough to talk to me. In my humble British dialect (but didn't we kind of invent the language?) "momentarily" means "for a moment" not "in a moment" as the German equivalent does. The same German original "Hoffentlich" (It is hoped that) has led to the insidious use of the adverb "Hopefully", the original meaning of which was "in a hopeful manner". And finally one encounters such abominations as "First quality" (erste Qualitaet) rather than the English "top quality".

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@v pinches - Few commentators nowadays see any problem with using hopefully as a sentence adverb. In fact, I doubt that it is used that much to mean in a hopeful manner, and in any case there's unlikely to be any confusion.

Frankly can also mean in a frank manner - "He spoke to me frankly", but I haven't seen any great objections to "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn".

Other adverbs used both as adverbs of manner and sentence adverbs include "honestly, sadly, seriously, stupidly". How is "Hopefully, I'll be able to make your party" any different to "Sadly, I won't be able to make your party"? After all, someone can look at me hopefully or sadly. But for some unknown reason, all the criticism is levelled at hopefully. There ain't no logic in it.

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OK, so here's my take on it (for learners)

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2012/01...

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This is a very interesting thread. I was talking about this subject in the pub tonight with friends. My boyfriend of five years is American, and so I'm very familiar with Anerican vocab and pronunciation differences. However the one thing that really does my head in -- quite literally -- is his use of 'bring'. It scrambles my brain circuitry when he says he's going somewhere and bringing the car with him. This different use of bring has been the cause of many small misunderstandings between us. I have never heard a British person use 'bring' in this way.
My boyfriend, BTW, is well-educated, from California and has lived here in Britain since the 80s.My mum is Irish and uses 'bring' in the Br way -- but was brought up by Nuns (grammarians?)
'Bring' is a Germanic modal verb, and from what I can remember from high school German, the Germans use the verb 'bringen' in the same way as in Br E; and nehmen or mitnehmen for 'take'. I'm seeing a pedantic German friend on Sunday and look forward to asking him!

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When I stayed in Ireland two years ago I heard my landlady say: "Oh, I forgot to bring my keys." She had left the house and then noticed that she missd her keys. So she came back and rushed into the kitchen to pick up her keys saying the above sentences.

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