The verbs bring and take both involve carrying or conveying something, but in most cases bring suggests movement toward the speaker ("Bring it to me") while take suggests movement away from the speaker ("Take it to your brother").
Here's how Charles Harrington Elster illustrates the rule in The Accidents of Style: "[W]hen you go to a restaurant they bring the food to your table and take your money when you're done."
Where the point of view is uncertain or irrelevant, either verb may be used. In some cases, as mentioned in the usage notes below, idiom determines the choice between bring and take.
- Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (film directed by Sam Peckinpah, 1974)
- "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, 1908)
- "Take This Job and Shove It" (song by David Allan Coe, 1978)
- "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." (Abraham Lincoln)
- "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." (Albert Einstein)
- "I suspect that one reason people get confused about bring and take is that there are many exceptions to the basic rules. For example, idioms such as bring home the bacon and take a bath and phrasal verbs such as bring up, bring about, take down, and take after don't comply with the rule that bring means to cause something to go to the speaker and take means to cause something to go away from the speaker."
(Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Macmillan, 2008)
- "[B]ring is established in expressions like bring to light, bring to justice, and bring to the table, perhaps because there's a figurative implication that the writer or speaker is in the light, at the seat of justice, or at the table."
(Charles Harrington Elster, The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly. Macmillan, 2010)
- "The rule becomes complicated when the movement has nothing to do with the speaker--e.g.: 'When my dad was courting my mom, a single mother of two, he used to take her a bag of groceries instead of flowers.' In such a situation, the choice of bring or take depends on motion toward or away from whatever is being discussed. So in the previous example, bring would work as well if the point of view was that of the mother rather than the father."
(Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, 3rd ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 2009)
(a) We will _____ this pie to Grandfather Goosey Gander.
(b) Dame Tuckett was kind enough to _____ us a loaf of bread.
(c) "Buy the ticket, _____ the ride." (Hunter S. Thompson)
(d) You didn't need to _____ me flowers.