‘Lend’ vs. ‘borrow’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

The verbs “lend” and “borrow” are among the most commonly confused words in the English language. Why? Because they are often translated using just a single verb into other languages. To put it completely bluntly:

to lend = to give something to somebody
to borrow = to receive something from somebody

provided the thing in question is expected to be returned to its original owner later. A simple way to decide whether to use “lend” or “borrow” is to see whether the sentence would make sense if we used “give” or “receive” instead. For example:

I lent him my new bicycle. (correct)
I gave him my new bicycle. (makes sense)
I borrowed him my new bicycle. (wrong)
I received him my new bicycle. (doesn’t make sense)

Since you give, you lend, not borrow. Similarly:

Would you please lend me your bicycle? (correct)
Would you please borrow me your bicycle? (wrong)

“Would you please receive me your bicycle?” doesn’t make any sense, whereas “Would you please give me your bicycle?” is perfectly fine. An example of the opposite direction:

I went to the bank to borrow some money. (correct)
I went to the bank to lend some money. (wrong)

Again, “I went to the bank to receive some money” is a perfectly fine sentence. The other sentence is probably wrong, unless you are Bill Gates and the bank wants to borrow money from you.

To loan or not to loan

The word loan is a noun describing either the act of lending something or, in the case of money, the money itself, e.g.

I got a loan from the bank.

In American English, “loan” can be used also as a verb synonymous to “lend” (mostly in connection with money):

A friend loaned me a lot of money. (American English)

However, you will probably get a few strange looks if you try to use “loan” as a verb synonymous to “lend” in Europe, so it is better to avoid it when addressing an international audience.

This article was based on my guide to the most common mistakes in English, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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