Bring me the bring-take problem

A fellow copy editor explained the difference between the use of “bring” and “take” to me some years ago. I think that I had always used the words correctly without thinking, but I didn’t always pick up on incorrect use in stories that I was editing. I notice the usage all the time now, thanks to my colleague’s explanation.

I thought about this usage problem again recently when James Kilpatrick wrote about it in his language column, which The N&O carries. Kilpatrick allows for a looser usage than I am willing to.

Here is how I think of the difference: “Bring” is the verb to use if you are referring to an action that is toward the speaker. (As long as you’re going to the kitchen anyway, will you bring me a Coke, please?) “Take” is for action away from where the speaker is. (The forecast calls for rain; be sure to take an umbrella when you leave for work.) Most of the loose usage occurs on the “bring” end; that is, people use “bring” when they should use “take.”

Here are some examples of use:

Her mentor, actress Simone Signoret, brought Fonda to a Paris antiwar rally to hear Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and others. (Presumably, Signoret escorted Fonda from her home to the rally; in other works, she “took” Fonda to the rally.)

The deputy brought them to a volunteer-run shelter. (The deputy took them from wherever they were to the shelter.)

Upon their son’s death, Rick and Karen Santorum opted not to bring his body to a funeral home. (The body was in one place, the hospital, and would need to be taken from there to the funeral home.)

The mother brought her ill child to the doctor’s office. (The mother took the child from their home to the doctor’s office.)

Perhaps this is a finer point of usage than most people are going to bother with, but to careful writers and their astute readers, the distinction is important.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.