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