I had the peculiar fortune of hearing this cringe-worthy statement the other day: “I can’t drive over there right now. My boyfriend is loaning my car.”
After my ears stopped bleeding, I realized that at least I had my column for this week.
The problem we have before us is a person not educated on the difference between the words “loan,” “lend” and “borrow.” Luckily, the Grammar Guy is here to help. Since “loan” and “lend” are similar in many ways, let’s talk about the odd duck out first: “borrow.”
To “borrow” something is to take and use something that belongs to someone else with the intention of returning it. That “something” can be money, a possession, or even figuratively the person themselves if you’re drawing them away from their own task. “Borrow” is the other end of lending someone something. I “borrow” your car. You “lend” me your car. “Borrow” always goes on the receiving end of a loan.
Now, for “lend” and loan:” “Loan” as a noun is the object being lent or borrowed. In the example above, the car is the loan. You can receive monetary loans to buy a house or go to college, or loans in the form of property, for example a “loaner car” while yours is being repaired. “Loan” can also be used as a verb, however it is only used with concrete nouns: “I will loan you my car.” “Could you loan me $50?” The verb form of “loan” is much more widely used in America than Britain … but since we’re in America, I suppose that’s just fine.
“Lend” acts only as a verb, and can be used for concrete or abstract nouns. For example, you could lend someone your car if theirs breaks down. More abstractly, you could lend a co-worker your experience with a problem you’ve faced before. Flowers can lend a room an outdoorsy feel. You get the picture.
With “lend” and “loan,” you can always feel confident using “lend” if you need a verb, though “loan” is perfectly acceptable when talking about concrete nouns. As for “borrow,” if it still gives you trouble, remember this: You always borrow “from” someone, never “to” someone.