One verb at a time

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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 (invi- tar), 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!”

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