One verb at a time
I can hardly believe that I havent´ written about “tomar” yet. It is such a useful verb for so many simple everyday activities, although it tends to be tricky for us because it has so many possible applications. If you look up “tomar” in the dictionary, you will find that the first translation is “take”. Well, that seems simple enough until we think about what “take” means in English. There is “take” as in taking a leaflet, a coffee, the bus or your time. All of these can be expressed with the word “tomar”. However, In English we can also “take” as in to move something or someone to another place. For example, we take a friend to the airport or take the cat to the vet. In that case “take” is expressed by the verb “llevar”.
“Tomar” is also the general verb used for “taking” as in eating and drinking. There is a cultural element to this since in Spain, as I am sure you know, as it is extremely common to go to bars and cafés and “have” something with friends. This could range from a drink, a snack or a meal, but in a rather random, casual way as part of a social, often spontaneous, occasion. The Spanish refer to this as “tomar algo” (to have, or to take something) where each person feels free to eat or drink according to their inclination, since the most important thing is not the food or drink itself but the shared event. That is why a waiter may say to you “¿Qué va a tomar?” which in English is the equivalent of “What will you have?” The same question might be asked of you by a friend who has just invited you to “tomar algo” with him or her. In that case: “¿Qué va a tomar?” might imply that your friend is “inviting” you (invitar), in other words that he or she is offering to pay at the end.
There are quite a lot of idiomatic uses of “tomar”. A frequently used one is “tomar el pelo” which means to “pull someone’s leg”. The literal translation is “to pull the hair” but if you think that is peculiar, pulling people’s legs is hardly a normal activity either. Another popular phrase is “tomar el sol” which means, “to sunbathe”. We can also “tomar una decisión” which is to take, or to make, a decision. “Tomar en cuenta” is “to take into account” and “tomar en serio” is “to take seriously”.
As you know, everyday Spanish is a lot more direct than English, and it is not uncommon to here “toma” (Take!) when someone hands you something. A slightly more formal version of this is “tome”. If you hear someone shouting “toma” in an excited manner whilst watching a football match, then perhaps a better translation is “take that!”