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Loan versus Lend

"Lend" and "loan" have similar meanings, but sometimes they are used in different ways.

By
Bonnie Mills, Writing for
3-minute read
Episode #115
The Quick And Dirty

Traditionally, some people insist that "lend" is the verb, and "loan" is the noun; but in the United States, language experts consider "loan" as a verb to be fully standard. Still, it has some limitations.

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

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," suggested that you consider giving up "loaned" for "lent" "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.)

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.


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

About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.