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End Your Confusion about Borrow and Lend

2019-6-7

This week we answer a question we received in an email from Tina. She writes:

Question:

I just want to know how to use the words "borrow" and "lend" in a situation. Is it correct to say, "Could you lend me a pen?" or " Can I borrow your pen?" Thank you very much.

Answer:

These two words are a source of trouble for many English learners. The reason? They have about the same meaning, but each word's action goes in different directions.

“Borrow” means to take something from another person, knowing you will give it back to them.

“Lend” means to give something to another person expecting to get it back.

So the sentences you asked about are both correct. Your choice of “borrow” or “lend” depends on which direction is more important to you.

Imagine yourself in the middle of the picture. Anything you “borrow” moves toward you. Things you "lend" go away from you.

Borrow vs Lend
Borrow vs Lend

Notice that the prepositions that often follow the verbs are different. We borrow from someone, but we lend to someone.

Let’s say you and I go shopping, Tina. I need to sign my name on a receipt, but I do not have a pen. So I ask you, “Can I borrow a pen?” I chose “borrow” because I am thinking of the action as it relates to me. You are a good friend, so you lend me the pen. I forget it is yours and I put it in my bag.

Later, we meet a good friend and she asks for your email address. You search in your bag, but – no pen! You think, “I lent Jill my pen. And she didn’t give it back to me.” Now you are thinking of the action that you did. So, you can ask me, “Jill, do you remember that pen I lent you? I need it now.”

I feel bad that I forgot to return the pen. I say, “Sorry, Tina! I forgot that I borrowed it. Here you are!”

Be careful: personal pronouns like me, you, him and others never come after the verb “borrow,” but it is correct to use them after “lend,” as in, “Lend me a dollar for some ice cream.”

I hope this helps you understand “lend” and “borrow.”

And that’s Ask a Teacher!

I’m Jill Robbins.

If you want to learn more about borrow and lend, see our Everyday Grammar TV episode: Lend vs. Borrow

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Do you have a question for the teacher? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

preposition – n. a word used to show a relation

Rules to remember:

When we use “borrow” in a sentence, we use the preposition “from.”

Andy borrowed a car from her friend Judy.

When we use “lend,” we use the preposition “to.”

Mario lent the computer to me.

Personal pronouns come directly after the verb “lend.”

Did Linda lend you her phone?

Now try this practice:

Which sentences are correct? If a sentence has an error, change it to make it correct.

  1. Sarah always borrows me her comb.
  2. I lent a pencil from Ahmed yesterday.
  3. Can you lend me your umbrella?
  4. He wanted to borrow some money from me.
  5. Do you want to borrow the coat to me?