Using ‘Tomar’ in Spanish

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.).

Kate Ter Haar / 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 is conjugated regularly.

Meanings of Tomar

Here are some of common meanings of tomar with sample sentences. Note that meanings often overlap. If you choose something to eat, for example, you might translate tomar as either "to choose" or "to eat," depending on which sounds more natural in the context.

To Take Physical Possession

  • 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 seized the manager as hostage.)

To Choose

  • Había muchas. Tomé el azul. (There were many of them. I picked the blue one.)
  • Mi filosofía es tomar lo difícil como un reto. (My philosophy is to choose what is difficult as a challenge.)

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.)
  • Es necesario que tomes medicina para combatir la infección. (It is necessary that you take medicine to fight the infection.)

To Interpret Something a Certain Way

  • Me tomaron por loco. (They thought I was crazy. They took me for a crazy man.)
  • 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.)

Using the Reflexive Tomarse

The reflexive form, tomarse, is usually used with little or no change in meaning from the nonreflexive form. Sometimes tomarse refers specifically to drinking alcoholic beverages.

  • Tómatelo con humor y disfruta el momento. (Take it with a sense of humor and enjoy the moment.)
  • No se tomó toda la cerveza. (He didn't drink all the beer.)
  • Luego, me tomaba un autobús a Panamá. (Later, I took a bus to Panama.)

Phrases Using Tomar

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).

Key Takeaways

  • Tomar is a very common verb that carries the idea of taking, although it can be translated in many ways. It often suggests that a choice of some sort was made.
  • Tomar is used in a variety of phrases and idioms.
  • The reflexive form, tomarse, usually has no translatable difference in meaning than the standard form.