Using 'Tomar'

Usually Translated As 'To Take,' Verb Has Variety of Meanings

holding hands
Toma mi mano y camina conmigo. (Take my hand and walk with me.). Photo by Kate Ter Haar; licensed via Creative Commons.

To say that the Spanish verb tomar means "to take" isn't doing the word justice. Although it can usually be translated that way, it actually has a wide variety of meanings and is used in all sorts of expressions.

Thus, like with some other common verbs, you need to pay attention to context when translating tomar. It generally isn't all that difficult figuring out what the verb means, as long as you realize that it usually conveys the idea of taking something or taking something in.

What is a bit more difficult is knowing when to use it when speaking Spanish; it isn't always appropriate to use tomar when you mean "to take." One quality of tomar, however, is helpful: It is one of the most common verbs that isn't conjugated irregularly.

Here are some of common meanings of tomar:

To take physical possession of: Tomó el libro y volvió a su habitación. He took the book and returned home. Toma mi mano y camina conmigo. Take my hand and walk with me. Los campesinos tomaron como rehén al gerente. The farmworkers took the manager as hostage.

To choose: Había muchas. Tomé el azul. There were many of them. I took the blue one.

To eat or drink: Tomo café como parte del desayuno en mi programa de dieta. I drink coffee as part of breakfast for my diet. El segundo día tomaron una sopa de pollo. The second day they had chicken soup.

To use a form of transportation: Tomemos un taxi. Let's take a taxi.

Cuando tomo el metro tardo hasta 45 minutos. When I use the subway I'm as much as 45 minutes late. No quiero tomar el autopista. I don't want to go on the freeway.

To take medicine: Recomendamos que tome ambas píldoras a la vez. We recommend that you take both pills at the same time.

To understand something a certain way: Me tomaron por loco.

They thought I was crazy. La mayoría de críticos se lo tomaron a broma. Most of the critics took it as a joke. Le tomaron por espía. They thought he was a spy.

To adopt a course of action: Para demostrar que el cambio era efectivo, se tomaron medidas muy drásticas. In order to demonstrate that the change was effective, very drastic measures were taken. Tomemos un enfoque diferente. Let's take a different approach. Viajar no perjudica la salud, si se toman precauciones. Traveling isn't dangerous to your health, if precautions are taken. Tomé la derecha. I turned to the right.

Additionally, tomar is used in idiomatic phrases. Many of them are equivalent to English phrases using the word "take." Here are some of the more common:

  • Tomar apuntes — to take notes (an anglicism, tomar notas, is heard in some areas).
  • Tomar el control — to take control.
  • Tomar (un) examen — to take a test.
  • Tomar fotos — to take photos (sacar fotos is preferred in some areas).
  • Tomar responsabilidad — to take responsibility.
  • Tomar nota — to take note.
  • Tomar parte — to take part.
  • Tomar la pluma — to begin writing.
  • Tomar el sol — to sunbathe.
  • Tomar tierra — to land (said of aircraft).
  • ¡Tómate esa! — Take that! (said, for example, when hitting someone).