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Loan versus Lend

A memory trick for the traditional rules.

By
Bonnie Trenga Mills, read by Mignon Fogarty,
July 8, 2008
Episode #115

loan or lend

Today’s topic is the difference between the words loan and lend.

Bonnie Trenga, who wrote this week's show, writes, Traditionally, lend is the verb and loan is the noun. I'll have a memory trick for you at the end.

British Rules

This rule is still true in Britain, but not in America (1). So in the UK it would be wrong to say, “My mom loaned me her favorite dress.” In the U.K., you’d have to say, “My mom lent me her favorite dress.”

American Rules

Some American grammarians agree with the British rule and prefer to use loan as a noun only. One American stickler, Bill Walsh, author of Lapsing Into a Comma, suggests that you consider giving up loaned for lent [quot “if you don’t want to incur the word nerds’ wrath” (2). Others contend that loan as a verb has been used “vigorously” in American English so it “must be considered standard” (3). In fact, loan has been used as a verb for nearly 800 years (4).

Banks

You will often see the verb to loan, and the noun loan, when you’re talking about banks and money. You can go to the Loan Department to ask for a loan (a noun). If you meet the financial requirements, the bank will loan you the money (loan is a verb). You don’t, however, refer to the bank as the loaner; rather, it’s called the lender. (A loaner often refers to a car that you borrow if you have your car in the shop.)

Next: It's Different for Art and Figurative Lending

Art

You will also see the verb to loan when you’re talking about museums and artworks. For example, a Canadian newspaper had the headline “Louvre to loan works to Quebec museum” (5). However, you’re just as likely to see the verb to lend used to refer to artwork. One museum’s policy states, “The Museum will not under any circumstances lend objects to individuals” (6). You will also hear the phrase “on loan,” as in “These artworks are on loan from that other museum.”

Figuratively Lending

Loan and lend, in America, are therefore interchangeable when you’re talking about money, paintings, or other physical things. You can say you loaned someone money, loaned someone a pen, or loaned someone a Van Gogh masterpiece. You can also say you lent someone money, lent someone a pen, or lent someone the painting. You can’t, however, use the verb to loan when you’re talking in a figurative sense; you have to use to lend. For example, you could say, “The smoke lent an eerie feeling to the room” but not “The smoke loaned an eerie feeling to the room.” In this sense, lent means “gave” and loaned makes no sense at all. A famous Shakespeare line, from Julius Caesar, uses lend in a figurative sense: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” I imagine the crowd of Romans would have laughed if Marc Antony had said, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, loan me your ears.”

Quick and Dirty Memory Tip

The bottom line is that some American grammarians prefer that you use loan only as a noun, so if you know your writing will be read by a picky grammarian or persnickety professor, you might want to stick with lend as the verb. Otherwise, if you’re in North America, you can feel fine about using loan as a verb when you’re talking about physical objects.

You can remember that because the words loan and noun both have o's in them, and lend and verb both have e's in them. Loan, noun. Lend, verb.

Administrative

This show was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at http://sentencesleuth.blogspot.com.

Remember, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is available now. It's a great reference for anyone, whether you are a grammar enthusiast, a student, or just want to improve your writing.

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References

1. O’Conner, P. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996, p. 107.

2. Walsh, B. Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How to Avoid Them. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2000, p. 165.

3. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 284.

4. Loan. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Loan (accessed: June 27, 2008).

5. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/artdesign/story/2006/11/08/louvre-quebec.html (accessed June 27, 2008).

6. http://mdah.state.ms.us/museum/collections_policy.pdf (accessed June 27, 2008).

Money photo by StockMonkey.com, CC BY 2.0

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