Difference between prendere and portare in Italian

Prendere means “to take, to grab” and describes a unique movement where you take something and keep it close to you.

To take

Fabrizio prende una birra dal frigo.
Fabrizio grabs a beer from the fridge.

Portare, on the other hand, means “to bring” and describes a two-way movement. You take something and you move it elsewhere.

To bring

Ogni mattina porto i miei figli a scuola.
I take my children to school every morning.

mom taking a struggling kid to school

How do you use prendere in Italian?

As we said, prendere translates as to take, to grab or also to get and to pick up. You can take your phone to make a call, you can take a pair of scissors to cut some paper, etc. You take an object (or a person) and keep it close to you, without leaving it somewhere else.

Lorenzo prende un libro dallo scaffale.
Lorenzo takes a book from the shelf.

Vado al supermercato a prendere del latte.
I’m going to the supermarket to get some milk.

A che ora devo venirti a prendere alla stazione?
What time should I pick you up from the railway station?

woman searching for someone

Prendere, like the English verb to get, is often used as an informal synonym for comprare, to buy.

Dove hai preso queste scarpe?
Where did you get these shoes?

Prendere is also used to translate the English expression “have + food” when ordering something in a bar or restaurant.

Prendi qualcosa? – Prenderò del tè al limone.
Will you have something? – I’ll have some lemon tea.

Some very common expressions with prendere in Italian are…

  • prendere lucciole per lanterne, to make a blunder
  • prendere per oro colato, to take as gospel
  • prendere due piccioni con una faca, to kill two birds with one stone
  • prendere con le pinze, to take sth with a pinch of salt
  • prendere tempo, to stall

How do you use portare in Italian?

Portare, unlike prendere, cannot be used to translate “to grab” or “to pick up” because it describes two movements: first you grab or pick up an object (or someone), then you take it somewhere else. Basically, you move something/someone.

For example, you can say…

La mamma porta il lenzuolo in lavanderia.
Mom takes the sheet to the laundry.

Che cosa ti porto? – Portami un’aranciata!
What can I get you? – Bring me an orange juice!

Hai portato Elena alla lezione di danza?
Did you take Elena to dance class?

4 girls dancing

Some other common expressions with portare in Italian are…

  • portare rispetto, to pay respect
  • portare a termine, to finish
  • portare fortuna, to bring luck
  • portare pazienza, to be patient
  • portare in tavola, to serve (some food)

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