I encounter this very often - брать or взять (take, grab) is used to actually mean купить or покупать (buy), for example А твой ноутбук за сколько брали? when the intended meaning is А твой ноутбук за сколько покупали?.

Obviously taking something from a shop without paying for it would mean stealing it and that's a crime in most jurisdictions, Russia included. Everyone knows that.

So why is взять or брать used instead of купить or покупать?

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    "How much did you get that for?" See, it is pretty much the same in English. And in many other languages as well. – Oleg V. Volkov Sep 13 '12 at 14:48
  • "I've taken a course in Spanish Literature last fall" does not imply that I did not pay for the course ;) – A-K Aug 14 '14 at 21:23

This is a synecdoche: part of an action (taking) instead of the whole action (paying and taking).

As others noted, such a synecdoche is quite common for the other languages too. As well as other sensitive subjects, money-related concepts are often described by synecdoches, metonymies, metaphors, euphemisms and other figures of speech.

For instance, the neutral Russian покупать is itself a Proto-German loanword (akin to German kaufen). Since core vocabulary words are rarely borrowed, it, most probably, had been used as an euphemism which later replaced the previous neutral word on the euphemism treadmill.


Are you a native English speaker? I'm asking just to find out whether take is used in similar sense in English. For example, as I understand - correct me, if I'm wrong, take in phrase "take it for only" means "buy it for only" as well.

As far as I remember, in French, for example, prendre also means both "to take" and "to buy". I doubt this is typical for russian (so I disagree with conclusions which @texnic made).

Besides, you question is quite incorrect. There is a logical flaw in your conclusions. See, you are saying:

брать or взять (take, grab) is used to actually mean купить or покупать.

Imagine following question:

Why does the verb убить (придушить, изничтожить) means to kill in Russian?

See, the thing is that брать has also meaning "to buy". And that the way it is.

Besides, I'm not sure that взять actually had such meaning which can be understood in relatively wide context.

  • I don't quite agree. I've never heard the verb брать officially used as покупать. Gramota clearly marks this usage as colloquial. Therefore the OP's question as to where it comes from has the right to be. – texnic Sep 13 '12 at 12:39
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    @texnic, "Caмка, где виноград брали?" ... "А там вон", - ответила она и показала в сторону прилавков - Пелевин, "Жизнь Насекомых". Nobody is talking about official speech. I've just mentioned that there IS such meaning. – shabunc Sep 13 '12 at 12:46
  • Well, since you compared it to the pair убить — to kill, I decided you did mean the official meaning. – texnic Sep 13 '12 at 13:15
  • @texnic, yep, I've been a bit too bold in my generalisation ) – shabunc Sep 13 '12 at 14:32

I am not 100% sure, but believe it stems from the Soviet reality. In the USSR, the amount of goods in the shops was desperately low, especially of those which were needed. Such luxury as good Italian shoes or an Italian-made guitar could appear, but it was always a heaven's gift. Therefore, even though the salaries were not high (on the order of 200–300 USD per month after tax), people often had enough saved to buy such things if they did suddenly appear in the nearby shop. Hence, when it finally did appear, the only question was where, not how much. You can see examples of such situations in many better Soviet films, such as По семейным обстоятельствам, Cлужебный роман и др.

Take also into account the prices were strictly regulated and therefore ridiculously low or unbalanced (30–50 rubles for a pair of good shoes, 3000 rubles for a 1.5 room appartment, 5–10k rubles for a Soviet car). Such prices could be kept exactly because nothing of this was readily available in the market.

Update: I now admit that my theory, though well-developed, is probably wrong :) See comment by Quassnoi below.

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    this is more about "достать" - "Шикарную югославскую стенку достала!". As I've already mentioned, logical shift to get => to buy is not something specific to Russian only. – shabunc Sep 13 '12 at 12:49
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    @shabunc: Достать implies active search for something. Брать is more related to the situation described by the verb выкидывать in the same context: — Где взяла?! — Да, в ГУМе выкинули. I hope my answer still describes the situation/origin of such usage correctly. – texnic Sep 13 '12 at 13:18
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    It seems they had USSR in USA too, considering that "get" can be used instead of "buy". Or, rather, pretty much entire world had USSR. – Oleg V. Volkov Sep 13 '12 at 14:49
  • @OlegV.Volkov: I first wanted to reference to this use of get as well :) However, get is not the same as take. Where have you got it from is better translated as откуда у тебя это than где ты это взял. – texnic Sep 13 '12 at 16:45
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    @texnic: search for "почем + брать": goo.gl/p3jaI yields 6 entries before 1917. – Quassnoi Sep 14 '12 at 9:29

"Get" is also used in English instead of "buy": "Wow! Where did you get such a nice purse?!" Like взять/брать it means obtaining without necessarily purchasing.

That this more general term is used wider in Russian may be a left-over from Soviet times, when few things' nominal prices reflected their value to the buyer. To buy something, you first had to locate where it is sold -- often by exchanging complicated favors with the would-be seller or other intermediaries. This made the actual transaction -- buying -- itself far less important in the whole process of obtaining. In other words, I tend to share texnic's "well-developed" theory...

  • Get means to receive. Брать is to take. – Metaphor Aug 14 '14 at 21:22

Not just buy, but sell as well.

  • По чем дают туалетную бумагу?
  • Я брал по 10 рублей

Most definitely stems from Soviet economics. Supply was so inadequate to meet demand, that money did not fit into the equation when speaking about acquiring necessities of life. My mom and dad often borrowed when articles of clothing and such were being "given".

  • I would also add "За сколько отдадите?" - it is asked by potential buyer that wants to know the price. I doubt though that it is because of Soviet economics. – Artemix Aug 15 '14 at 7:32

Besides, I'm not sure that взять actually had such meaning which can be understood in relatively wide context.

Actually, it has. Example:

Взял себе новую тачку недавно.

Bought myself a new car recently.

Взять (both with slang тачка for a car) in this example does have a hint of rather coarse or street slang speech, though may be used ironically among people on good terms.


So why is взять or брать used instead of купить or покупать?

Approximately for the same reasons that "to pick up" and "to get" are sometimes used instead of "to buy" in English.


(I am not a Russian native speaker so I don't intend this answer to be a reference) . From my experience , people here would say all the time for example взял пива to say that they bought some beers in the shop ( not just that they took them from the fridge ) , but they would use купить when buying a house , a brand new washing machine from Europe or a (decent) car or something that looks as an important and serious transaction. They could also use взять if they buy some sort of really old bad low-cost car, meaning they managed to get a car. This is how I could interpret this.

  • well I would say that they use взять when the concept of buying is not so important ( because the price or the quality is low ) and купить when the concept of buying is important (new goods,etc...), implying eventually going to the нотариус. I think also many goods here in post-USSR republics have such a low quality ( like these European 'solidarity' second-hands clothes that are supposed to be given free of charge and not sold in shops ) that people don't consider seriously that they bought them but more than they managed to get some of them ( because they need some ) – user4256 Sep 1 '14 at 8:29

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