Sunday, July 27, 2014

Borrow vs. Lend (Can you borrow me some advice?)


The verbs borrow and lend are often confused by English learners all over the world.  There are myriad of reasons for this.  One reason is that the verbs have a similar meaning, but are used in opposite directions. Borrow means "to take," while lend means "to give."   In order to distinguish which to use, one trick is to try substituting "take" for borrow and "give" for lend.  

Another reason for such confusion is because sometimes in a learners native language there may be only one word to signify both meanings.  For example, in Spanish the verb prestar is commonly used to indicate meanings of borrow and lend, although the true meaning of prestar is closer to lend.  When I lived in Namibia, the native language in my area was called Kwanyama.  In Kwanyama there is one word which signifies the English meaning of borrow/help/lend - kwafelenge.  This caused much trouble for the learners, as they'd sometimes ask me, "Sir, can you help me a pencil?"  However, more often than not they'd confuse borrow and lend as the the story below illustrates...       

“Mr. Wes, can you please borrow me $2?” asked a boy in grade 12 as I was walking home.  He was standing with a group of friends, each smiling to see how I’d react to this boy's request.  Getting asked for money was something I’d grown accustomed to in rural Namibia, and from time to time I’d get asked by some of the kids at school.  Interestingly enough, no matter where I went, everyone would always ask for $2.  Not $1, $3, or $4 - $2 seemed to be the standardized panhandling amount.  I had a longstanding precedence never to give learners money.  However, the education was free.  And if they asked me like this, I’d always correct them.

“You mean to say lend,” I told the boy.  “Borrow means to take something.  Lend means to give something.  So what should the question be?” I asked.

“Mr. Wes, can you lend me $2?” the boy appropriately corrected himself.  I told him good job and patted him on the shoulder.  He looked proud, and probably thought I may actually give him the money.  However, the lesson was not over.

“Now you realize,” I continued, “that in either case, the intention is that you’re going to return the money.  In this case, you plan to pay me back the $2.”

“Ouh, sir, but you are very rich!” the boy protested, and some of the others laughed.

“Nevertheless, if you ask me to lend you $2, then it means you plan to pay me back.  Now do you want to pay me back?”

“Of course not,” the boy said with a smile. 

“Okay, then what should you ask me?” 

The boy contemplated this for a moment.  I think he thought I was trying to trick him.  He looked to his peers for some assistance.  Finally, one of the boys said, “Have…use have.”

The boy turned to me again and asked, “Sir, can I have $2?”

Now we were getting somewhere.  I’m not sure if this little lend/borrow exercise would actually stick, but it was a common mistake that continuously needed to be addressed.  Of course, in the end, all the boy would have was an explanation.  But then again, most would agree that education is priceless.



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