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ANOTHER LOOK AT "TAKE,' "BRING' AND OTHER GOLDEN OLDIES

As every American student knows, we are now in the midst of "review time." Class! Listen up! Finals are just ahead. In preparation, let us recur today to some golden oldies.

No oldie is more golden than the distinction between "take" and "bring." Everyone knows the basic rule: "To bring" implies movement toward the speaker, "to take" implies movement away. Professor Higgins instructs Eliza, "Bring me my slippers." He tells the maid, "Take the dishes." The speaker's point of view controls the direction.

Uncertainties arise when the point of view is irrelevant. The example is given of a couple going on a picnic. He says, "You bring that heavy folding table, and I'll take the paper napkins." That is known as equal division of labor. In such constructions, either verb works: "I'll take the Scotch, you bring the soda." Webster's Dictionary of English Usage cites a familiar announcement: "Copies will be given to pupils to bring home to their parents." The pupils could take the copies or bring them, all the same. Either way the kid will lose the copies along the way.

In his "Modern American Usage," Bryan Garner offers as an example, "When my dad was courting my mom, he used to take her a bag of groceries instead of flowers." Manifestly, "used to bring" would have worked as well as "used to take." Incidentally, a kind word should be said for the variant conjugations of "bring." At a cotillion, a young woman properly expects to be taken home by the fellow who brung her. Or brang her. Or brought her or took her. There will be a question on the final exam.

Many writers, including this one, are equally uncertain about "emigrate" and "immigrate." The familiar rule is that we emigrate from and immigrate to (or into), but the choice defies easy explication. Webster's says unhelpfully that "the meaning is essentially the same, no matter which verb you use." My own thought is that when Mr. Dooley left Ireland, he was an emigrant. When he opened his bar in Chicago, he was an immigrant. This will be an essay question.

The most golden of our golden oldies is lie/lay. Commentators have been struggling with those two mundane verbs since the late 1700s. In olden days, children in grade schools memorized the conjugations: lay, laid, laid, laying; and lie, lay, lain, lying. One difference, obviously, is that unless one lies his or her head off, "lie" cannot take a direct object.

Its cousin "lay" is more accommodating. Obviously "to lay" can take a direct object: Bookies lay bets. Masons lay bricks. Hens and Jay Leno lay eggs. To the educated ear, "I want to lay down" triggers the spavins and heaves. In formal speech and writing, the proper form is still "I want to lie down," which is what one does after suffering an hour of cramming for a final.

The verbs "loan" and "lend" dwell only a few pages away from "lie" and "lay." Not so very long ago, many commentators would have insisted that "loan" can never function as a verb. No more. The weight of contemporary custom has worn us down. The noun has been verbed. Sic transit gloria! It hap pens all the time. In the next translation, Marc Antony will exhort the crowd, "Loan me your ears!" A gruesome thought.

We recently discussed the distinction between "I believe" and "I think." Afterthoughts come to mind. In most circumstances the two verbs are fungible, but subtleties are at work here. Like "persuading" on the way to "convincing," the act of thinking has become a way station on the road to believing.

The cuckold thinks his wife is faithful. He would like to believe that she's faithful. Thinking is cerebral, a function of the brain: Einstein and Galileo thought. Believing is a foot farther south. It lies in the heart: Thomas a Becket and Joan of Arc believed. Look where it got them. It will be on the quiz.

Readers are invited to send dated citations of usage to James J. Kilpatrick in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. His e-mail address is kilpatjj@aol.com.