ASK A TEACHER - End Your Confusion about Borrow and Lend

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


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.


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.

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.

Words in This Story

preposition – n. a word used to show a relation