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Learners' Questions

Welcome to Learners' Questions - the series where we answer your queries about the English language. What will this week's learner question be?

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Learners' Questions

Owe, lend and borrow

Omar in Somalia says: How can I use the word owe when I lend someone some money? Do I say I owe you $20 or do I say you owe me $20?

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Dan
Hi guys! Dan from BBC Learning English here with this week's Learner Question. Find out what it is after this.

OK! This week's Learner Question comes from Omar from Somalia, who asks: How can I use the word owe when I lend someone some money? Do I say I owe you $20 or do I say you owe me $20? How do I use this word in both ways such as when I borrow money from someone or also when I lend someone some money? Wow, Omar. That’s one heck of a question. Let’s see if we can answer it for you, ok?

So, if you borrow something, you take it from somebody for a limited time. The preposition is from. For example, I borrowed £5 from my brother. Or, many of his ideas are borrowed from other sources.

Now for lend. Lend is give, you give something to someone for a short or limited period of time, but they’re expected to return it! It has two objects. You lend something to someone or you lend somebody something. For example, my brother lent £5 to me. That’s verb, direct object and indirect object. Notice the preposition to - £5 to me. Or, my brother lent me £5. That’s verb, indirect object and direct object. No preposition. Money is lent by banks to people.

Now for owe. Owe is what must be returned. It results from the borrowing or lending. It can also have two objects. So you owe somebody something or you owe something to somebody. And there’s no difference.
So, using our previous example, I borrowed £5 from my brother so I owe my brother £5. Or, my brother lent me £5 so I owe £5 to my brother. And you can change it if you want to. So, I borrowed £5 from my brother so I owe £5 to my brother. Or, my brother lent me £5 so I owe my brother £5. And it’s all the same! So, don’t stress.

I hope that answers your question Omar. Thank you very much for writing to us. If anybody else out there has a question for Learners’ Questions, you can email us on: learning.english@bbc.co.uk. Please remember to include Learners’ Questions in the subject box and your name and where you’re writing from. Now, we get a lot of emails, guys, so we can’t possibly answer all of them, but we do read every single one. And for more information, go to our website bbclearningenglish.com. That’s it for this week’s Learners’ Questions. I’ll see you next time. Bye!

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Summary

Borrow
If you borrow something, you take it from somebody for a limited time. The preposition is from.
I borrowed £5 from my brother.
Many of his ideas are borrowed from other sources.

Lend
Lend is give, you give something to someone for a short or limited period of time. It has two objects. You lend something to someone (verb, direct object and indirect object) or you lend somebody something (verb, indirect object and direct object. No preposition.).
My brother lent £5 to me.
My brother lent me £5.
Money is lent by banks to people.

Owe
Owe is what must be returned. It results from the borrowing or lending. It can also have two objects. So you owe somebody something or you owe something to somebody. And there’s no difference.
I borrowed £5 from my brother so I owe my brother £5.
My brother lent me £5 so I owe £5 to my brother.
I borrowed £5 from my brother so I owe £5 to my brother.
My brother lent me £5 I owe my brother £5

To do

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Learners’ Questions Quiz

4 Questions

Decide if these sentences are correct or incorrect

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End of Session 5

Well, that's it for this unit! Join us again in Unit 22 for more Exam Skills, News Review, Pronunciation in the News, The Teachers' Room and Learners' Questions!

Session Vocabulary

  • Borrow
    take for a short or limited period of time
    borrow something from somebody

    Lend
    give for a short or limited period of time
    lend something to someone
    lend someone something

    Owe
    what must be returned after borrowing or lending
    owe something to someone
    owe someone something