If you use tomar as the translation of the English verb ‘to take’, this will work well in some contexts but not all.
In English we ‘take’ sugar with our coffees, we stop to ‘take’ a breath, we ‘take’ necessary measures and we ‘take’ our time. In this post, you’ll see which of these ideas translate well to Spanish and which do not.
Generally, the Spanish verb tomar is the best equivalent of ‘to take’. But, some strange things happen with the translation of this verb around food and common expressions.
In this post, you’ll learn how to use this common regular Spanish verb for talking about having drinks, gaining strength or freedom, taking up certain measures and, as they say in the classics, much more.
If you would like to see the conjugations for this verb, try out my favourite Spanish verb conjugation tool here.
Use 1 – For drinking or eating
In the context of eating and drinking tomar is used like the English phrase ‘to have a…’. For example, in English, you could say ‘to have a drink’, ‘to have a glass of wine’ or ‘to have a piece of cheese’.
Here is a simple example:
English: Do you want to have a glass of wine or a coffee?
Español: ¿Quieres tomar una copa de vino o un café?
If you want to ask a really natural sounding question, test out the phrase ‘to have something’ which in Spanish is ‘tomar algo‘. When you next get an opportunity, try asking a Spanish friend:
English: Do you feel like going out to have something (a drink or a bite to eat)?
Español: ¿Te apetece salir para tomar algo?
One thing to note, you do have to be careful when using this verb for talking about eating.
You can’t really use tomar when you want to talk about consuming certain foods such as tapas or paella. But, you can use it for talking about consuming vices such as chocolate and ice cream.
English: I eat ice cream every day.
Español: Tomo el helado todos los días.
English: I need to have some chocolate.
Español: Necesito tomar un poco de chocolate.
Use 2 – To gain strength, freedom or take the liberty
You can also use tomar to talk about gaining liberties that are physical such as gaining or catching your breath or metaphorical such as taking the liberty to do something.
English: I had to stop for breath.
Español: Tuve que parar para tomar el aliento.
English: He took the liberty to share his thoughts with everyone.
Español: Él se tomó la libertad de compartir sus pensamientos con todo el mundo.
English: The idea started to gain strength.
Español: La idea comenzó a tomar fuerza.
Use 3 – To adopt or take up
Often in combination with the word medidas (measures), you can use tomar to talk about taking up or using measures, strategies or precautions.
English: We have to take up the necessary measures if we want to win the race.
Español: Tenemos que tomar las medidas necesarias si queremos ganar la carrera.
English: In this situation, one must take precautions.
Español: En esta situación, hay que tomar precauciones.
Use 4 – To take in a judgement or understanding
The fourth use of tomar should be familiar to you from English.
The idea of being about to ‘take a joke’ or ‘take someone’s ideas seriously’ is about judgement or determining what is right and wrong.
English: You must take his threats seriously.
Español: Debes tomar en serio sus amenazas.
English: It is difficult for me to take him seriously.
Español: Me cuesta tomarlo en serio.
English: He can’t take a joke.
Español: Él no puede tomar una broma.
Use 5 – For receiving the effects of something
In Spanish, you can use tomar to talk about taking in the effects of something that is good or bad.
A common use of tomar in this context is for talking about sunbathing or taking in some sun.
English: She spends a lot of time sunbathing.
Español: Ella pasa mucho tiempo tomando el sol.
English: I took in some air to clear my head.
Español: Tomé aire para despejarme.
English: If I was you, I would put some heat on the back to help with the pain.
Español: Yo que tú, tomaría calor en la espalda para mejorar el dolor.
Use 6 – Expressions with tomar
There are a few expressions with tomar that are worth knowing.
1. Tomar una decisión
In English, we ‘make’ decisions, in Spanish we need to ‘take’ decisions.
English: We have to make a decision soon.
Español: Tenemos que tomar una decisión pronto.
2. Tomar el pelo
In English when someone is telling you something that you are having a hard time believing, you can say “you are pulling my leg”. In Spanish they say “taking hair”.
English: You are pulling my leg (you are joking).
Español: Me estas tomando el pelo.
3. Tomarse un tiempo
This expression is used to talk about having a break to relax. It is also often used for talking about having a break in a relationship.
English:We decided to take a break.
Español: Decidimos tomarnos un tiempo.
English: I took a vacation break after months of hard work.
Español: Me tomé unas vacaciones después de meses de trabajo intenso.
4. Tomar cartas en el asunto
This expression implies that you need to take action or interfere with something. The best English equivalent of this expression is “to take matters into ones hands.”
English: They took matters into their own hands.
Español: Tomaron cartas en el asunto.
The challenge for this post is to take some of the common expressions with tomar and test them out with a Spanish native. See if you can impress with your knowledge of some common colloquial expressions.
I put in these sections at the end of every post as a reminder to take what you have learnt and put it into action.
When you use a piece of language theory a number of times you will be telling your brain that it is important information. Information that needs to be stored in a place where you can retrieve it again soon.
How else can you use tomar in a Spanish sentence?