‘Tomar’ or ‘beber’: How to Say ‘Drink’ in Spanish!

Quick answer – ‘beber’ and ‘tomar’ both translate as ‘to drink’ in English, but ‘tomar’ has various other meanings that are NOT shared by ‘beber’ (it’s also Spanish for ‘to take’). In the sense of ‘to drink‘, there’s also often a preference for one or another, depending on the Spanish-speaking country that you’re in!

Stay put for all the juicy deets!

Tomar’ vs ‘beber’ (the nitty-gritty!)

‘Tomar’ and ‘beber’ can both mean ‘to drink’.

In this sense, you’ll often find them used interchangeably –

En una fiesta

Pilar – ¿Qué estás tomando/bebiendo?

Miriam – Una michelada*, ¿y tú, qué tomas/bebes?

At a party

Pilar – What are you drinking?

Miriam – A michelada*, what about you?

*Expert tip – a ‘MICHELADA is a type of beer prepared with lemon and salt; it’s SUPER popular in Mexico.

BUT, as I mentioned earlier, one of the two is often favored depending on the country that you’re in.

Luckily for you, we’ve put together a super useful infographic based on data from the Corpus de Español, showing which of the two is used across the Spanish-speaking world –

Infographic showing the use of "tomar" and "beber" across the Spanish-speaking world

So, as you can see, in Mexico and much of Central America, ‘tomar‘ is the verb of choice, while Spaniards tend to use ‘beber‘.

Coming from Europe, I was pretty darn confused by the near-constant barrage of ‘tomar‘ this and ‘tomar‘ that when I first arrived in Mexico, but I did eventually manage to work out that I wasn’t being slavishly told “to take water” every time I looked even the slightest bit thirsty!

Rupert’s pro tip – although ‘tomar‘ and ‘beber‘ can be used interchangeably when talking about the act of drinking, I do highly recommend that you plump for whichever word is more commonly used in your Spanish-speaking country of choice as it’s gonna make you sound infinitely more local.

I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve been asked “¿Y para beber?” instead of “¿Y para tomar?” in restaurants in Mexico, for example!

Are there any other differences?

Yep, ‘beber‘ is mainly confined to the realm of drinking, while ‘tomar‘ actually has a myriad of other meanings as it’s also Spanish for ‘to take‘.

Let’s dive into some examples –

tomar = to take (i.e., to grab with your hand)

Por favor, toma un turno y espera en la fila.

Please take a number and wait in line.

tomar = to take (i.e., to consume medicine)

Vas a tomar estas píldoras cada ocho horas por tres días.

You’re going to take these pills every eight hours for three days.

tomar = to take (i.e., to travel by)

Emilia – No veo tu* coche, ¿en qué llegaste?

Manolo – Tomé el metro. Era más rápido.

Emilia – I don’t see your car, how did you get here?

Manolo – I took the subway. It was faster.

tomar = to take (i.e., to seize)

La gran Tenochtitlan fue tomada por los conquistadores españoles.

The great Tenochtitlan was taken by the Spanish conquerors.

Tomar’ can also sometimes translate as ‘to have’ and ‘to get’

tomar = to have (in the context of meals)

Tomé un desayuno ligero antes del viaje.

I had a light breakfast before the trip.

tomar = to get

Necesitaba tomar aire fresco.

I needed to get some fresh air.

Before you go …

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¡Hasta pronto!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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