What is the difference between “borrow” and “lend”?

The words “borrow” and “lend” have very similar meanings.  However, the way to use them in a sentence is quite different!

In this post we’ll look at the definitions, tense, and correct usage patterns of these two words.  In business, school, and in daily life these two words come up a lot, and so it’s worthwhile to learn to use them correctly!  By the end of this post, you should never again have to make the mistake of saying, “Please borrow me a pencil.”

Definition of “Borrow”

Borrow – to take something for a short time and then return it.

Present Past

Past Participle

Borrow Borrowed

Borrowed

When making a sentence with “borrow,” the receiver must always come before the word “borrow.”  That means if the speaker wants to borrow something, “I” and “me” must come before “borrow,” never after it.  Put the object (the thing being borrowed) directly after the word “borrow.”  The structure looks like this:

[Receiver] + borrow + [object]

Examples

  • I borrowed my friend’s mobile phone.
  • May I borrow your pen?
  • Incorrect: I will borrow you this book.
  • Incorrect: Please borrow me a pen.

 

More complex sentence structure with “Borrow”

In a more complex sentence, “borrow” should always go with “from.”  Do not use “borrow” with “to.” Think of “borrow” as similar to the word “take.”  In most cases, sentence structures using these two words can be exactly the same.

Also be sure that the object being borrowed comes before “from,” not after it.  Here is a sample sentence structure:

[Receiver] + borrow + [object] + from + [Giver]

Examples

  • I borrowed a car from my friend for the weekend.
  • Jason will borrow some money from his brother.
  • If you borrow this textbook from me, please give it back before the exam.
  • Can you borrow a car from your parents?

 

Definition of “Lend”

Lend – to give something for a short time and then get it back.

Present

Past Past Participle
Lend Lent

Lent


Simple sentence structure with “Lend”

When making a sentence with “lend,” the giver must always come before the verb.  The receiver should be after the verb.  And finally the object comes last, just after the receiver.  Here’s a sample sentence structure:

[Giver] + lend + [receiver] + [object]

Examples

  • My friend lent me a dollar.
  • Could you lend me your mobile phone?
  • I will lend you this book.
  • Incorrect: He will lend his car.

 

More complex sentence structure with “Lend”

If you would like to emphasize the object and not the receiver, then “lend” sentences can be re-formed by adding the word “to.”  In this grammar structure, you can imagine that “lend” is just the same as “give.”  This is also useful if the phrase to describe the giver is much longer than the phrase to describe the object.  Putting the shorter phrase first will make the sentence easier to understand.  Here is a sample sentence structure:

[Giver] + lend + [object] + to + [receiver]

Examples

  • My father lent his laptop computer to my brother.
  • Tom lent a book to Jason.
  • Please lend your dictionary to your classmate if he doesn’t have one.
  • Incorrect: Please lend your classmate your dictionary if he doesn’t have one.*
  • *The grammar is correct, but the sentence is awkward.

 

Culture Note

Native speakers sometimes use “borrow” even if they will not return the object.  This is often the case for small, inexpensive, or disposable things.  For example, a piece of notebook paper, a tissue, a glass of water, a French fry, etc.

To the speaker, using “borrow” instead of “take” or “have” may feel less direct, and thus more polite.  However, because this expression is not quite logical, it is not actually more polite than a direct request.  In fact, when someone says, “May I borrow a French fry?” the other person will often joke, “Only if you return it later.”