The Grammarphobia Blog

Loan cowpokes

Q: I often hear presumably intelligent people use the word “loan” when I think they mean “lend,” as in this sentence: “Will you loan me a dime?” Can you actually use “loan” as a verb without doing a disservice to the English language?

A: In formal English, “lend” is the verb and “loan” is the noun. But common usage has taken over in American English. It’s now considered acceptable (at least informally) in the United States to use “loan” as a verb for the lending of money or physical goods.

A Usage Note in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) says objections to the verb “loan” may be the result of “a provincial deference to British critics, who long ago labeled the usage a typical Americanism.”

Although American Heritage accepts the verb “loan” for physical transactions, it says only “lend” is correct for metaphorical or intangible transactions.

What this means is that Shakespeare, if he were alive today, would NOT feel free to write, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, loan me your ears.”

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