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I was recently helping some Spanish-speaking students with something, in which they had to translate take. The translation I've learned in classes is tomar, but that was interpreted as "to drink", so agarrar was used as a synonym to ease understanding. I learned it was not technically correct, because it was related to the word for "garras", which means claws, so only an animal can "agarrar" something (although, I may have misunderstood).

I have researched the issue, and according to various sites I trust for Spanish (see Spanish Dict's article here), example sentences are given with people "agarrando" things.

Did I misunderstand? Is agarrar technically correct for people? If not, can you clarify why a person can't "agarrar" something (I was a bit confused with the "claws" argument)? If it is not technically correct, is it so widely accepted I'd be understood anywhere I used it, and would it still be correct, even in more formal writing? Is it a country-specific thing? Is there another word for "take" I could use other than "tomar" that would be better understood?

Thank you!

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    I could see that a certain snobbish type of teacher or textbook might make a claim that you shouldn't get in the habit of saying "agarrar." But if you want to use authentic, natural Spanish, in conversation with real people in many parts of Latin America, use "agarrar" to mean "to take." – aparente001 Apr 3 '19 at 19:38
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    Cuando estés decidida a buscar otra vida, pues agarra tu rumbo y vete... from an old ranchera. – Walter Mitty Apr 4 '19 at 1:35
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Agarrar is a perfectly good word for English "take" in the sense of physically getting hold of something or someone (and also, depending on context, also "grab" and "grasp"). There are a few synonyms but this is probably the most common word for that meaning, though tomar is also correct (it also means "beber", but again context makes it obvious when it doesn't).

Agarrar is etymologically related to garra "claw", but its current meaning doesn't have anything to do with claws. You can very well say things like

  • agarrar con ambas manos "to take/grab with both hands"
  • agarrar del brazo "to take/grab by the arm"

There's another related verb, desgarrar "tear, rend, rip" where the relation is clearer, but still you can use it without reference to claws.

In some regions tomar may be more common than agarrar; in others it's less common. In more formal situations tomar is actually better. Another difference is that when you motion someone to take something as an offering, a gift, a refreshment, etc., you mostly use tomar, because agarrar is more concrete in the sense of "taking hold" of things.

Coger refers to having sexual intercourse in some parts of Latin America, notably Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, and it's not as common as agarrar elsewhere in the Americas in any case, so it's best to stick with agarrar or tomar.

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  • In Mexico, if you say the word coger, people will not keep a straight face. Cuba is an exception- they still use coger. – Karlomanio Apr 2 '19 at 14:17
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I'm assuming that you heard this from Mexicans because "agarrar" is the correct and standard word in Mexico for "To get" or "to take." The reason for that is coger, which is the formal Spanish word from Spain, has a meaning that refers to a sexual encounter.

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    Actually I would say that is a thing from Latin-American countries, not only Mexico. – Vladimir Nul Apr 2 '19 at 9:59
  • @VladimirNul True, except Cuba. Cuba still uses coger meaning "to get". Agarrar just seems more of a Mexican word, even though I know in Argentina, coger is not used. – Karlomanio Apr 2 '19 at 14:18

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