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English (other than American English) has a clear differentiation between the two words. Both are about translocating something. In "bring" the something of somebody is moved to where the speaker is currently situated. "Take" is used to translocate something or somebody to a place that the speaker is not currently at.

You cannot “bring” your books to school if you are currently at home. You can only take them to school. Most of the time one can get the meaning from the context of the sentence but it can get very confusing when the other party is on the telephone and you do not know their location.

Why does American English not differentiate and when did it lose the differentiation?

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    I find it hard to believe the claim that American English does not differentiate between the meanings! Certainly it may happen in colloquial or poorly educated usage, but I've never encountered the mix-up you mention. (I'm not claiming that it doesn't happen; only that it isn't a feature of standard American English.) It would be interesting to know how frequently it happens, so thanks for asking the question. – ShreevatsaR Sep 16 '10 at 21:48
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    I'd quite like to see some example of this (non-differentiation), I don't think I've ever encountered it. – Benjol Sep 17 '10 at 4:49
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    @ShreevatsaR I immigrated to the USA about 20 years ago and I notice the mistake all the time. I notice it at least 4 times a week and it hits me smack on the forehead each time I hear it. At first I thought it was simply a marker of poor education and unsophistication in much the same way that "borrow" and "lend" are often muddled. I noticed that the usage of "bring" for everything was by all Americans. There is no distinction between levels of education or apparent socio-economic strata. – Farrel Sep 18 '10 at 12:50
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    @Farrel, clearly your definition of bring is more restricted than your acquaintances’. Rather than “correct” them by having these silly conversations, maybe it’s time to accept that the word has a different meaning here. I am sure you have found many other words have different meanings from place to place, and clearly bring is one of those words. – nohat Sep 18 '10 at 16:35
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    Bring is the causative of come and take is the causative of go. Thus, bring and take are subject to most of the same peculiarities as come and go, respectively. Read all about it in Fillmore's Coming and Going; if you find this heavy going, maybe it will come to you if you check out "May We Come In?" and the rest of the Deixis Lectures . – John Lawler Jan 15 '15 at 3:18
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Take and bring in the sense of translocation do not have an exact, complementary usage bound by the location of the speaker as proposed by the question. Oxford Dictionaries defines this sense of bring simply as “Take or go with (someone or something) to a place”. Merriam-Webster defines the location binding of take as “to another place”, whereas bring is bound “toward the place from which the action is being regarded”.

The location binding of bring is not necessarily defined relative to where the speaker is currently situated. For example, in a telephone conversation, since the speaker and the hearer are not in the same location, to bring could be to the speaker's location, or it could be to another location contextually relevant to the conversation—“the place from which the action is being regarded”. You can say “bring your books to school” whether you are at school or at home, because you don’t have to actually be at school to regard an action from there. In context, you are simply imagining the action happening from the perspective of school.

Others agree. John Lawler parallels come and go with bring and take:

To summarize, both come and go mean to move, but their use is determined by their deixis, i.e, the identity and location of the speaker and addressee...

For instance, in a situation where someone has knocked on your door and you shout reassurance to them to let them know you're on your way to the door from somewhere else,... what you say is I'm coming, because you're moving toward the place your addressee is at; in English you can take either the speaker's or the addressee's position as the terminus ad quem for come, as well as the terminus a quo for go.

It's easy to see that bring and take have these stigmata, too.

I'll bring it right back.   (to you)  
I'll take it away.          (from you)  
Take this away.             (from me)  
Bring the car.              (to me)  

With this kind of fluidity..., there are lots of choices available for bring and take. If you are speaking to someone outside your office community, who will not be accompanying you tomorrow, you would be more likely to say I'll take the sausage to work tomorrow; but you could still say I'll bring it to work, because, after all, you'll be there, and it'll count as moving towards you, the speaker.

The Grammarist notes about hypothetical situations

When one is using the future tense, either of these verbs are correct because nothing has actually happened yet. Usage is based on which point of view the speaker wants to emphasize, the moving of the object or the removing of it.

  • If bring is "toward the place from which the action is being regarded", how can you say "Bring your books to school" when at home? I can imagine contexts where first the "action" is set at home, and then could use a sentence with a form of bring — "Tomorrow when you go to school, I hope you will have brought your books with you" is probably fine in American English — but saying "Bring your books to school" by itself still seems very awkward to me. – ShreevatsaR Sep 18 '10 at 6:04
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    It’s perfectly natural-sounding to me. I am imagining the person who I am talking to at school, without his books. The place from which the action is being regarded is school, so I say “bring your books to school”. That’s all. The actual physical location of either me or the person who I am talking to doesn’t play in to whether I can use the verb bring or not. – nohat Sep 18 '10 at 16:29
  • Let me guess. ShreevatsaR did not live in the USA when he/she was about 10 years old and nohat did live in the USA when he/she was 10 years old. – Farrel Sep 20 '10 at 18:57
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    I'm not sure I understand the distinction, but perhaps I do. I would say "bring your laptop to work tomorrow" even though I was home, if I myself would be at work tomorrow and thus the laptop would be brought to the place that I will be when the action is executed. (Though I also do think that quite a few American speakers misuse "bring" in the same way that some would say, "I brung your sister like you asked.") – Wayne May 17 '11 at 19:58
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    @EdwinAshworth by "the distinction is different" I just meant that the distinction in meaning is different from the one proposed by the original question—"In 'bring' the something or somebody is moved to where the speaker is currently situated. 'Take' is used to translocate something or somebody to a place that the speaker is not currently at." Since I'm only a native speaker of American English, I'm unsure if the distinction as proposed by the original questioner is one that is actually true in other dialects. – nohat Oct 27 '16 at 1:50
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I speak Canadian English, so I don't know if this answer is relevant to you. But I would that your definition of "bring" allows a little lee-way, at least for colloquial use:

Take your books to school.

?Bring your books to school.

The second sentence is technically only correct if the speaker is at school, right? But given that this imperative statement is being told to someone, when they perform the action they are doing both, taking their books and bringing them to school. So I don't see it as strictly wrong for the parent to tell their child (while at home) to bring their books to school (when they next go to the school).

I would say that "He brought his books to school" is correct no matter where the speaker is.

  • How is it right for parents at home to say "Bring your books to school"? – ShreevatsaR Sep 17 '10 at 16:32
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    @ShreevatsaR, see my answer. Short version: bring is not as strongly location-bound as take. – nohat Sep 17 '10 at 20:44
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Because Americans are lazy? (This is coming from an American)

Honestly, I think "proper" English of all forms should make the distinction, but it's just not use colloquialy because there's usually enough context around the word to make the meaning clear, and people just don't care enough to be correct about it.

I was taught English in the Midwestern United States, and we were taught to make the distinction. But outside of formal writing I rarely see anyone give it a second thought.

  • Your answer seems plausible but I do not know if it is correct. – Farrel Sep 20 '10 at 18:53
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American English does differentiate, just differently from British English. I would say that part of the distinction in English is that "bring" puts the emphasis on the object going to somewhere (with you) and "take" puts the emphasis on the object coming from somewhere (with you).

Imagining two people in a living room speaking to each other, no-one speaking grammatically would say, "Bring your sister from her room to the car." Americans and Brits alike would say, "Take your sister from her room to the car." The phrase "from her room" requires "take." However, Americans might say, "When your sister leaves her room, bring her to the car."

"Take" also has an additional meaning that "bring" does not have. One can take something away from another person or location. "Bring" does not work in this context at all. Thus, "Take your sister from her room," if the goal is to remove her from her room and without any specific destination. "Take the toy from your sister" only works with "take." American and British English agree on this point.

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    Funny, according to the examples given here, I speak American English. Which I don't. I don't think the restriction on the definition of bring is anything like as tight as Farrel suggests. – TRiG Oct 14 '10 at 22:54

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