Question: My 15-year-old granddaughter (an AP English student at North Central) corrected me yesterday when I said, “You loaned me this keyboard – now I’m returning it.” Her response: Loan is a noun – you can’t use it as a verb – the correct word to use in that sentence is lent. Was she right? (Harriet Horwitz)
Answer: Thanks for writing in, Harriet. Sounds like your granddaughter is a pretty smart cookie, and I’m glad to hear that there is a younger generation of grammar enthusiasts coming up.
The answer to your question is yes, and no. In British English, the verb form of “loan” died out a long time ago – around the time when Virginia was still a colony. However, we kept using it here stateside, and it remains entirely standard American English to this day.
There are a few caveats to how we distinguish the two words. First and foremost, “lend” is never a noun in American English (I’ve heard it may be used that way colloquially in parts of England, but I’m no expert on the subject). You can lend someone a bicycle or a hand, but you don’t ask for a “lend.”
Second, when acting as a verb, “loan” is never used figuratively. You would loan someone money, but you would lend them a hand. You could loan someone artwork, but in putting it up, you would be lending their apartment an air of class.
“Lend” can also be used as a reflexive verb to mean “to adapt or apply oneself readily.” For example, a round table lends itself to discussions. You get the picture.
As far as “loaned” and “lent,” they are the past tense forms of “loan” and “lend,” respectively. The same rules apply.
The bottom line is: If you use “loan” always as a noun, and “lend” always as a verb, you will never be wrong. If you choose to use “loan” as a verb, keep it literal – and bask in the joy of upholding an American linguistic tradition.