If you’re learning Spanish, you’ve probably come across the verbs ‘tomar’ and ‘beber’ at some point or another.
And if you’ve heard them being used interchangeably by native speakers, you’ve probably also wondered whether they always mean the same thing …
Quick answer – ‘beber’ and ‘tomar’ both translate as ‘to drink’ in English, but ‘tomar’ has various other meanings (it’s basically Spanish for ‘to take’) that are not shared by ‘beber’.
Welcome to the ultimate ‘tomar’ vs ‘beber’ showdown!
‘Tomar’ and ‘beber’ can be used in the following ways –
As nouns and/or adjectives –
1. ‘Bebida’ (feminine) means ‘beverage’, but it’s also an adjective used to describe a drunken female.
2. ‘Bebido’ (masculine) is ONLY used as an adjective to describe a drunken male.
3. ‘Tomado’ / ‘tomada’ are also used as colloquialisms for ‘drunk’, but only in Latin America (you won’t hear them as much in Spain).
As verbs (i.e., ‘beber’ and ‘tomar’) –
1. When related to ‘drinking’, the two can be used interchangeably.
2. ‘Tomar’ has other meanings not shared by ‘beber’; it’s basically the Spanish equivalent of ‘to take’.
‘Tomar’ vs ‘beber’
In this sense you’ll often find them used interchangeably –
En una fiesta
Pilar – ¿Qué estás tomando?
Miriam – Una michelada*, ¿y tú, qué bebes?
At a party
Pilar – What are you drinking?
Miriam – A michelada, what about you?
*Erika’s note – a ‘michelada’ is a type of beer prepared with lemon and salt which is super popular in Mexico.
As nouns or adjectives, you’ll find ‘bebida’ used to describe ‘beverages’, and ‘bebido/a’ and ‘tomado/a’ to describe drunken people –
¡Me encanta esa bebida! Es muy refrescante.
I love that drink! It’s so refreshing.
No recuerdas nada porque estabas bebido.
You can’t remember anything because you were drunk.
Alberto llegó bien tomado a su casa.
Alberto came home wasted.
The most important difference between these two verbs is that ‘beber’ is mainly used as a synonym of ‘drinking’ (as in consuming liquids), whereas ‘tomar’ also means ‘to take’, as in ‘to grab’ (with your hand), ‘to consume’ (medicine), ‘to take transport’, and ‘to seize’(a city / town).
For example –
Por favor, toma un turno y espera en la fila.
Please take a number and wait in line.
En el consultorio del doctor
Vas a tomar estas píldoras cada ocho horas por tres días.
At the doctor’s office
You’re going to take these pills every eight hours for three days.
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.
La gran Tenochtitlan fue tomada por los conquistadores españoles.
The great Tenochtitlan was taken by the Spanish conquerors.
*Erika’s note – ‘tu’ doesn´t have an accent here as it’s a possessive adjective meaning ‘your’, NOT a subject pronon (i.e., ‘tú’).
‘Tomar’ can also sometimes translate as ‘to have’ and ‘to get’ –
Tomé un desayuno ligero antes del viaje.
I had a light breakfast before the trip.
Necesitaba tomar aire fresco.
I needed to get some fresh air.
As you can see, you can use ‘beber’ and ‘tomar’ interchangeably only when related to the act of drinking liquids or beverages.
Expressions with ‘tomar’ / ‘beber’
Tomar el pelo
This one literally translates as ‘to take the hair’ in English, but it actually has nothing to do with grabbing someone by the hair (fortunately!)!
It’s just a colloquial phrase that means ‘to deceive’ or ‘to pull someone´s leg’.
Me tomaron el pelo. Mi endulzante de calabaza no lleva calabaza en los ingredientes.
They swindled me. My pumpkin spice doesn’t even have pumpkin in it.
‘Tomar valor’ is another very common expression that means something along the lines of ‘to pluck up the courage’ in English.
You may also hear ‘agarrar valor’.
Tomé valor, y le pregunté si quería casarse conmigo.
I plucked up the courage and asked her if she wanted to marry me.
This one is – rather recent – Mexican slang for drinking while hanging out.
It’s a combination of the words ‘convivir’ (‘to hang out’) and ‘beber’.
¿Entonces, qué? ¿Vamos a conbeber con la banda el sábado?
So? Are we gonna hang out over some drinks with the gang on Saturday or what?
I hope I’ve cleared up, once and for all, any confusion regarding ‘tomar’ and ‘beber’ in Spanish.
Just remember: ‘tomar’ is a verb that you’ll hear really often in a variety of circumstances, whilst you’ll hear ‘beber’ only as a synonym of ‘to drink’.
Keep this little formula in mind, and you’ll be good to go!
Oh, and if you’re curious about other tricky Spanish synonyms, you’ll probably find our article on ‘lento’ vs ‘despacio’ super useful too!