Ask Luís! (#1): levar vs. trazer

On our first Ask Luís! series, I’ll be answering a question from Dries (thank you for your question!):

Olá Luis,

Just finished my Duolingo tree (now trying to make it completely gold), and I think your blog is just the thing I need to proceed my understanding of EP. Muito obrigado.

Questão: could you give me some simple instructions as to get a better feeling for the difference between levar and trazer. I looked it up at Ciberdúvidas but the answers were a bit too theoretical.

Suggestion for the grammar site: tips for the use of the Conjunctivo (presente e preterito imperfeito). We don’t use it anymore in Dutch (I’m from the Netherlands), only in proverbs or some expressions. Bom trabalho!

Atenciosamente,

Dries

First of all, I’d like to thank you so much for your kind words (I believe most of my followers at this point have come from Duolingo, so I probably don’t need to explain why that was mentioned in Dries’ comment), and for your suggestions for grammar tips – I’ll place them on the top of my list; meanwhile, I’d like to refer you back to Duolingo and the very helpful Subjunctive Guide that one of its users wrote – it’s long and most sentences are in BP, but it’s a good way as any to start grappling with the tense and its many, many uses.

You’re also spot on in your assessment of Ciberdúvidas: it’s a really helpful website, but it does require an intermediate to advanced level of Portuguese to fully understand, especially since the answers use grammar terminology that’s harder to translate.

Without further ado (and as always, I feel like I’ve written a lot already), I’ll answer your main question after the jump:

The difference between “levar” and “trazer”

At the most basic level, “levar” and “trazer” are connected in a binary relationship, marking opposite reactions in the act of carrying objects in space:

  • Levar is the act of bringing something that’s near you or with you towards a different person or space;
  • Trazer is the opposite action, i.e. the act of bringing something that was away from you (either in space or in the possession of someone else) and bring it closer to you.

That means levar emphasizes transportation to a there (ali, lá, acolá), while trazer works the other way around, by taking something closer to here (aqui, cá).

That may even be a more accurate way of explaining it if the person doing the act of bringing is someone other than I; if the bringer is going away from you, use levar; if the bringer is getting closer, use trazer.

Examples:

  • Vou levar um bolo à minha mãe. I’ll bring/take a cake to my mother. (POV of the bringer)
  • O meu filho trouxe-me um bolo. My son brought me a cake. (POV of the receiver)

Portuguese’s notorious trickiness with verb + preposition combos (regência verbal) is also present here, since:

  • Levar (a) carries the aforementioned meaning of “to bring”, but
  • Levar (de) means “to take” (i.e. to remove an item from somewhere, sometimes “to steal”);
  • Levar (-) or Levar (em + location) means “to carry” something, to have something on you.

Trazer can also be used in these last two bullet points, but with slightly different meanings- it can’t carry the pejorative meaning of “to steal”, and the emphasis on the physical burden of “carrying” is stronger, or at least in the act of bringing something closer to a certain point in space:

For example, a student leva os trabalhos de casa na mochila (carries their homework in their backpack) at the beginning of a day (because they’re on their way to school), but traz os trabalhos de casa at the end of the day (because they received the extra homework at school and they’re bringing it home).

Such is the push-pull relationship of these two verbs: sometimes they have similar meanings divided only by minuciae, and in others they live in a closed binary, the yin to the other’s yang.


 

I hope that helped understand the main difference (and to begin understanding the intertwined secondary meanings). I’ll look forward to any feedback so that I can improve this article.

I was wondering if you would be interested in me translating dictionary entries for both verbs from Priberam’s EP dictionary and add examples of each separate meaning. It’s not the best way of untangling the different meanings, but it may be a good way to see how they divide and intersect.

I’ll look forward to more questions from my readers!

Luís

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4 thoughts on “Ask Luís! (#1): levar vs. trazer

  1. Dries Brinkman February 26, 2016 / 10:21 am

    Muito obrigado,

    I know have a better understanding how to use these words. I like the way you give your examples in different conjugations. The more examples, the better
    I tried to think of a sentence in which I could use trazer in the first person present, but I find it hard to do. I found one in the lyrics of Mariza: “Esta tristeza que trago/ foi de vós que recebi”, but that is a different meaning.
    I can imagine saying, being with someone aqui: já trouxe o livro ontem! Or: vou trazer o livro amanhã. But how to use trago when I am here at the moment? Or is it simply not possible?

    Another small question: Am I right that I could use the Imperfeito instead of the Condicional? It saves me learning one conjugation the less, and I am already used to ask: “Podia falar mais devagar” , at my annual five week stay in Algarve september/october

    Dries

    Like

    • luisdomingos February 26, 2016 / 2:15 pm

      De nada! I’m able I was able to help, even if for a small part. It’s true that these two verbs (in the primary meaning explored above) don’t usually lend themselves to the present, but they can be used with it when you’re talking about things happening right now (“Trago o jantar!” when someone gets home with takeaway, for example) and especially with regular activities (“Eu trago laranjas à minha mãe todos os dias”). Regarding trazer, it’s probably less common – that last sentence could have “trago” substituted with “levo”, but the emphasis would switch from the mother (who’s brought oranges at home) to the son (who brings them there, leva-as) – but it’s a possibility anytime you’re bringing something to someone (emphasis on the person being delivered the goods). There’s also the less ambiguous “trazer de + location” (to bring something from somewhere); for example, “Eu trago comida do escritório para comer em casa quase todos os dias” (I bring food from the office to eat at home almost every day).

      Regarding your second question: the Pretérito Imperfeito can be used instead of the Condicional, yes (especially if you’re using it as a form of polite address, which is the case of your example). At least to my ears, “Podia falar mais devagar?” is the most common way of saying it (I don’t travel much to the Algarve, but I believe that’s the case there too); “Poderia?” sounds stiff and questioning (almost as if you’re truly wondering about the possibility – Could this person really talk slower? I should write a treatise about it). In this sense, the Imperfect ends up working as a polite form of the Imperative.

      I’m not sure if you ever had problems with using “querer” in the (polite) imperfect; if you ask a server “Queria [insert food or beverage you’re ordering here], se faz favor”, at least a good chunk of them will use the opportunity to say “Queria? Então já não quer, é?”, or something to that effect. It gets really annoying when you hear it a lot (especially since using the Imperative may sound rude/too frontal to some people), but it’s a good way of remembering the primary use of the Imperfect.

      Long story short – you should keep using the Imperfect, but you’ve been warned – if you find a prankster behind the balcão of a pastelaria, they will make that joke eventually!

      Good luck with your studies (:

      Like

  2. Dries Brinkman March 24, 2016 / 2:17 pm

    Thanks! Up till now I never met such a prankster, but perhaps in Algarve they are not that street-wise as in Lisbon, at least not in the small villages. And we also avoid the tourist areas in Albufeira or Vilamoura.
    I will stay vigilant…. Any suggestion for a witty remark?
    In most circumstances I only meet very friendly people who are willing to listen to me when I say: tento falar português. And very often they enjoy helping me with corrections!

    You are right, for me the use of the Imperative sounds a little rude, but I am getting used to it. For us in the northern countries it sounds too much as a ” Befehl”

    Like

    • luisdomingos March 24, 2016 / 3:20 pm

      I don’t have any suggestions for witty remarks – I usually smile and nod politely and wait for people to give me what I asked (: I guess you could say you’re done wanting the thing you asked for (“Então deixe estar, vou beber o café a outro lado”), but you don’t really want to put the server against you (some pranksters get really flustered when people answer back), so it’s best to just ignore it and move on with your day (:

      I think that’s a wise decision – to stay away from the fuss of the most touristy areas and get a good look at other places and hidden gems all over Algarve (and the country, really). It’s good to know people are kind enough to listen to you and to take notice of your effort – that speaks a lot to their character (and yours) for wanting to establish a connection (:

      Like

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