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July 25th, 2007

Bring and take / plurals of family names ending in s

by Barbara Wallraff

Dear Readers: Recently I asked you if there were previously published letters and responses you’d like to see again. Here are two you requested, on subjects about which I often get mail. If there are other topics you’d like to see revisited, it’s not too late to let me know.

Penny Sweet, of Hulls Cove, Maine, writes: “There is an ongoing dispute in my house regarding ‘bring’ and ‘take.’ Is there a right choice when saying ‘I will bring/take a cake to the fair’?”

Dear Penny: The simple, traditional rule is that “bring” means toward the person speaking and “take” means away from that person. Often this rule is all that’s needed -- as in, “Waiter, will you please take away this dirty plate and bring me a slice of cake for dessert?”

But when we’re talking about something that someone else is bringing or taking somewhere, the rule doesn’t do us any good. For instance, whatever you’re doing with that cake for the fair, it’s not coming to me or going away from me -- so what’s the difference whether I say you’re “bringing” or “taking” it? In situations like this, “bring” means toward whatever I, the person speaking, am focusing on, and “take” means away from that focus. So if I were mainly thinking about the fair, I’d say “bring”: “Everyone loved the cake you brought to the fair last year. This year, will you bring another one?” Actually, though, I’ve been focusing on you. So I should say, “How nice of you to take a cake to the fair.”

Because the difference between the two words can be so subjective, sometimes it hardly matters which you choose. Only when pretty clearly someone is “bringing” something away from whomever or whatever, or “taking” something toward, is either word truly wrong.

Susan Rose, of West Bloomfield, Mich., writes: “In a recent column, you discussed the family name Rudy. But how do you sign a card from a family whose last name has an ‘s’ sound at the end? My concern is with the family name Jones.”

Dear Susan: I’m not going to ask why, if your family name is Rose, you’re interested in signing cards as if they’re from the Joneses. I’m just not. That would be the way to sign them, though: “The Joneses.”

It’s only when you start getting into names that have two “s” sounds at the end that the correct form starts to look and sound silly. Imagine that your last name were Roses, for instance, and you wanted to sign a card from the whole family: “The Roseses.” That, too, would be correct. But it isn’t pretty -- so I might suggest that if Roses were your name, you sign the card “Susan Roses and Family” instead. And if that were your name and you wanted to put up a house sign, I’d suggest it read “The Roses Family.”

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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