Lend or borrow?

25 Nov

Welcome to another Troublesome Pair – I wonder if I can keep these going indefinitely. I’m almost sure I am – but I do appreciate when people take the time to suggest pairs for me to write about, so do drop me a line and let me know about any you need explaining, or any you see around you and think need explaining to people in general.

Apparently these two, lend and borrow, do get mixed up often. I can’t say I’ve seen it that much, but the person who suggested it isn’t the only one to have confirmed they’ve noticed it.

It should be quite simple. When you lend something, you are allowing someone to use it, on the understanding that it will be returned will be returned.  So Max lends Jim some money that Max has, and Jim needs. The library lends out books.

To borrow, on the other hand, is to be on the other side of the bargain and to be the recipient of the loaned item. Jim is borrowing Max’s money, and you borrow books from the library. You borrow money from a mortgage lender, for example.

The slight problem with lend is that it does tend to get used in the “wrong” way in colloquial speech and regional dialects, which means it’s floating around more, gets heard more, and the hearers can become inclined to think it’s the correct usage.  We’ve probably all heard “can I have a lend of your pen?” and, while the use might be regional and the sense can be perceived, it would be best if people whose regional dialect it is not part of, especially people learning and speaking English as a second or additional language, refrain from using it like this.

So – I have a book. You don’t have a book. I lend you my book. You borrow it. Now you have the book – but you will be giving it back (otherwise I’ve given it to you).

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


Tags: , , ,

7 responses to “Lend or borrow?

  1. Helen Palmer

    November 25, 2011 at 10:16 am

    in german, there is the same word for both – leihen / ausleihen – so german speakers of english tend to use lend for both lend and borrow!


    • Liz at Libro

      November 29, 2011 at 10:57 am

      That’s interesting! Although, with most of my troublesome pairs, it’s the English native speakers I tend to see making the errors I talk about. Non-native speakers tend to have totally different ones – very interestingly!


  2. Sandy Millin

    November 25, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Hi Liz,
    When I was at primary school, one of my teachers, Mr. Hayward, would refuse to lend anything to a student who asked if they could lend something. The inevitable response was “To who?” (and I know that should have been to whom in the past, but would never say it now) 😉
    Now, the difference between lend and and borrow is a huge problem for my students, as in many languages the same word is used for both concepts. He easiest way I have found to explain it is that:
    lend = give
    borrow = take
    The only diffence is that with lend and borrow you expect the object to be returned to it’s owner. Even the grammar of the pairs is the same:
    Can you give me your pen?
    Can you lend me your pen?

    Can I take your pen?
    Can I borrow your pen?

    Hope that adds to your great explanation. 🙂


    • Liz at Libro

      November 29, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Hi Sandy, that’s great and really helpful – thank you!


  3. Charlene Masson

    February 18, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    Lend and borrow are frequently confused by people of South African origin because in Afrikaans there is only one word – leen – for both transactions. So you frequently hear “can i loan your book?”


    • Liz Dexter

      February 19, 2017 at 7:32 pm

      Oh, that is interesting, thank you for sharing that information!


  4. Ken Hosking

    March 19, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    Shakespeare makes the importance of the difference clear:
    ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be
    For loan oft loses both itself and friend
    And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry …’



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