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Lend and Loan

Commonly Confused Words

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Lend and Loan

In formal usage (especially in British English), lend is a verb and loan is a noun.

In American English, the use of loan as a verb is generally considered acceptable (particularly when it concerns the lending of money). See the Usage Notes below.

Only lend has figurative uses, as in "Lend me your ears" or "Lend me a hand."

Examples:

  • "Borrow trouble for yourself, if that's your nature, but don't lend it to your neighbors." (Rudyard Kipling)

  • A bank, so the old saying goes, is a place where you can always get a loan--when you don't need one.

Usage Notes:

  • "Although most expert users of English dislike loan as a verb ('I loaned him my pen'), except in financial contexts, it must be acknowledged that the usage is sanctioned by dictionaries. If you are not offended by 'Friends, Romans, countrymen, loan me your ears' or by 'Distance loans enchantment,' you may go along with the dictionaries and you will always have a defense."
    (Theodore M. Bernstein, Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblin's, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971)


  • "Some people are bothered by the word loan as a verb, preferring to use lend in its place. There's not much reason for the anxiety--loan has been a verb since around the year 1200, and I think an 800-year probation is long enough for anyone--but it's now little used in America. My advice: don't be bothered by loan as a verb but, if you want to avoid irritating those who have this hangup, it's never wrong to use lend."
    (Jack Lynch, The English Language: A User's Guide, Focus, 2008)


  • "The verb loan is well established in American usage and cannot be considered incorrect. The frequent objections to the form by American grammarians may have originated from a provincial deference to British critics, who long ago labeled the usage a typical Americanism. Loan is, however, used to describe only physical transactions, as of money or goods; for figurative transactions, lend is correct: Distance lends enchantment. The allusions lend the work a classical tone."
    (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2000)


  • "These are sometimes interchangeable, sometimes not. Only lend carries the figurative senses of adding or giving, as in lend strength to the cause or lend color to an otherwise routine event. But for other senses, as when property or money pass temporarily from one owner to another, either word could be used. . . .

    "In American and Australian English, the verb loan is readily used as an alternative to lend in such applications--but not so much in contemporary British English. The word was used in Britain up to C17, but a curious resistance seems to have developed there during C18 and C19, when the Oxford Dictionary (1989) citations are all from the US, and the word somehow acquired provincial associations. Fowler (1926) noted that it had been 'expelled' from southern British English, but that it was still used 'locally in the UK.' Yet Gowers writing after World War II found it returning to British government writing (1948, 1954) and weighs in against it in his 1965 edition of Fowler as a 'needless variant' (1965). This seems to be the basis on which British usage commentators argue that loan must be used only as a noun (except in banking and finance) and lend as a verb. Some British dictionaries (Collins, 1991) and the Canadian Oxford (1998) still echo the inhibition, while data from the BNC [British National Corpus] shows that many British writers are comfortable with it."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Practice:

(a) "Never _____ your car to anyone to whom you have given birth." (Erma Bombeck)

(b) Gus asked Merdine for a _____.

Answers to Practice Exercises

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