Tomar vs. Llevar: Language Precision

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Once again, we’re back with the very important topic of language precision. Check out our previous blog on language precision for information on verbs that mean “to ask”. This week, we’ll be discussing a couple of verbs that mean “to take”.

Remember that precision of language is very important, and is an easy way to get those subtleties of meaning across. Making a point of being precise can set you apart from other non-native speakers, and can really help your understanding of others.

In English, we use “take” in many different ways. You can take a bath, take a book and go to the park, take someone to school, take a pen out of your backpack, take someone’s coat, take a taxi…the list goes on. In English, it’s appropriate to use “take” in all of these cases. But in Spanish, the meaning might be lost if you just use “tomar”. So when do we use tomar?

Most of us know that in Spanish, tomar is used in many cases: tomar bebidas, tomar sol, tomar el autobus. Its meaning ranges from “to imbibe”, like a drink, to “to pick up”, like a book off a table. For the most part, tomar is used to mean using or taking possession of something. So in the cases of bebidas, sol, pastillas, autobuses, and tiempo, you are using the item.

Where it gets tricky is in uses of tomar that seem to cross over with other verbs, like llevar. For example, you would use tomar if you are taking an item and then going somewhere: tomó la mochila y fue al parque. In this case, you are taking possession of the backpack, then going to the park. In this example, we use tomar because the sentence is not explicitly expressing “to bring (with you)”, which would be llevar, but instead is separating the action of taking the backpack into your possession and then going to the park.


The meaning of tomar is subtle here, so make sure to look at plenty of examples of tomar being used, and if you’re unsure, try searching for the phrase online.

Being really comfortable with tomar and llevar can have many benefits, one of which involves your understanding on a deep level. Take, for example, this phrase: llevar a tomar una decisión.

Knowing what you know about tomar and llevar, can you figure out what the phrase above means?

Can you find any other examples that would remain ambiguous if we didn´t have a good grasp of the difference between tomar and llevar?

Misunderstanding Mondays

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Here's a good one for our Misunderstanding Mondays. In 1977, Braniff Airlines launched an ad campaign advertising their new leather interiors. They encouraged people to fly with Braniff by using the slogan "fly in leather". Because they had many flights to and from Spanish-speaking areas, the advertisements were eventually translated to Spanish. Braniff promoted their new leather seats by telling Spanish speakers to fly “sentado en cuero”. Spanish-speakers had quite a laugh at this; the phrase means "sit naked" in Spanish slang. When the company decided to market to Spanish speakers, they neglected to identify the colloquial meaning of cuero, and didn´t specify that the seats were leather, and not that the customer would be seated in their own "hide"!

Interestingly enough, this is the same company who had a campaign called "the Braniff Air Strip", which portrayed a female flight attendant removing several layers of clothes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmPLgv7TVOA

How do you think they could have corrected their "sentado en cuero" ad to prevent the misunderstanding?

Spanish Language Precision: Preguntar

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Being precise with your Spanish is one of the many small things you can do to improve your understanding. Achieving a better grasp of the subtle meanings behind everyday words is a great place to start, and it can really maximize your ability to gain more out of poetry, songs, movies, and literature.

Preguntar is a very common word in Spanish, but what exactly does its meaning encompass? Where can it really be used effectively, and when is it better to find another word instead?

Preguntar means loosely "to ask", but the underlying meaning is "to ask a question" or "to ask about something". In the case of "Le pregunto la hora" preguntar functions quite nicely. But what about asking for forgiveness? Asking someone to come to dinner? These are two cases where preguntar will not suffice.

So what should you use in those cases?

For starters, let’s look at our options. Pedir also means "to ask", but in a way that suggests you are asking for something. Invitar means to ask but is a cognate with English "to invite".

So in the cases above, you could use pedir when asking for something like forgiveness, and invitar for asking someone over to dinner: pido perdón; le invito a mi casa.

When looking at a poem such as "Pido silencio" by Pablo Neruda, knowing that he is not asking silence a question and that he is asking for silence will help you understand the basic meaning of the poem. But on a deeper level, you can also make the distinction that he is not begging for silence (in which case he would have used rogar) but simply and calmly asking for it.

In a song by Edgar Lira called "Yo le pregunto", knowing that preguntar implies asking a question can really help your understanding of the lyrics:

Yo le pregunto a la historia quién fue aquel
Que partió el tiempo en donde estoy
El antes y después de él
Si dice que no existió
Yo le pregunto a la psicología
Si me puede explicar
Como doce hombres sin valor
Cambiaron de una forma radical
Después que resucitó

Knowing that preguntar means to ask a question, we can understand that he is asking "history" and asking "psychology" for answers to questions.

Working on your language precision is one of the best ways to get you closer to fluency, and it can be a very rewarding process as your abilities increase.