French Language Blog

Can I Borrow a Few Minutes of Your Time? Borrowing and Loaning in French Posted by on Dec 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

Ah, French… The language of love. The language of diplomacy. The language of Molière. And unfortunately for learners of French, the language of so many confusing pairs! Whether you’re asking yourself if you need to use en or dans, c’est or il est, or encore or toujours, you’re going to keep running into words or concepts that are the same or closely related in your language, but don’t quite work in French.

Along with bring and take, another mistake I hear from time to time is loan and borrow. I don’t hear it too often from native speakers, but when I do, I’m always taken aback.  Just as bring and take refer to the speaker’s point of reference, loan and borrow are the same. It’s based on the direction of the object, c’est-à-dire (that is to say) from Person A to Person B, or from Person B to Person A, and who is doing the speaking.

Language is very much alive, and as more and more speakers use (or don’t use) a certain term, the ‘established language rules’ can change over time. A hundred and fifty years ago, you’d hear and see whom all the time. These days, those who use it are often accused of being pompous even though its grammatical function still holds true. Using who and whom is the exact same as using he and him, so why has the objective form of who become old fashioned? The answer could indeed be explained in detail in its own essay, but essentially the word has been used less and less over time to the point that it’s become nonstandard in the present-day English vernacular.

Because of how people use the word, whom is disappearing (adieu, I say!). On that same note, speakers of certain dialects of English in the Caribbean Islands have been using “borrow” so often to mean “loan,” that it’s come to be the accepted term.

Seeing as its merely a ‘directional’ word, it’s easy to see how the terms can be confused. Below, I’ve explained how to use these terms in French and also included some similar vocabulary.

When to use it: Borrowing something means you’re taking something from someone — with permission — with the intention of returning it.

In French, the verb for to borrow is emprunter (quelque chose à* quelqu’un) (to borrow something from someone). For example:

     Marc me demande tous les jours s’il peut emprunter ma voiture.
     Mark asks me every day if he can borrow my car.

     Puis-je emprunter 20 € ? Je te les rends vendredi.
     Can I borrow 20 euros? I’ll pay you back Friday.

     Savez-vous que vous pouvez emprunter beaucoup plus que des livres à la bibliothèque ?
     Did you know you can borrow a lot more than just books from the library?

In all 3 of these examples, the person would like to TAKE something from another person.

* =  Take special note of the preposition! While à translates to “to” in English, French uses it here where in English we’d use from!

When to use it: Loaning or lending something means you’re giving something to someone with the expectation that he or she will return it.

In French, the verb for to loan is prêter (quelque chose à quelqu’un) (to loan something to someone). For example:

     Tu as prêté ta voiture à Samia !? Quelle mauvaise idée !
     You loaned your car to Samia!? What a horrible idea!

     Vincent espère que la banque va lui prêter l’argent.
     Vincent hopes the bank loans him the money.

     Je ne prête plus jamais mes livres car ils me reviennent trop rarement en bon état.
     I no longer loan my books out because they rarely come back to me in good shape.

In all 3 examples, these people are hoping to GET something from another person.


Other Uses for These Verbs
Prêter and emprunter, in addition to meaning borrow and loan, have a few other meanings as well. Below you can check out other ways to use these verbs. Luckily, one of them is super short 😉

consentir un prêt
— to take out a loan
contracter un prêt
— to take out a loan
prêter attention à
— to pay attention to
prêter le flanc à la critique —to leave yourself open to criticism
prêter l’oreille à quelqu’un/quelque chose —to lend somebody an ear / listen to something
prêter main-forte à quelqu’un — to lend a hand to somebody
prêter serment — to take an oath
prêter son visage à — to become the face of (a brand)
prêter à confusion — to give rise to confusion
se prêter au jeu — to play along
se prêter à quelque chose — to lend itself to (something)
s’y prêter — to be favorable to / to lend itself to (something)

emprunter un chemin
— to follow a path
contracter un emprunt — to take out a loan
faire un emprunt — to take out a loan

Similar & Related Vocabulary
un emprunt — a loan (used if you’re the one who received the money). Linguistically, it can mean a loan word.
un emprunt à taux zéro — a zero-rate loan
un emprunt obligatoire — a bond debt
calculé au centime prêt — worked out to the last cent
un emprunt obligatoire — a bond debt
un prêt à la consommation — a consumer loan
un prêt étudiant — a student loan 🙁
un prêt immobilier — a real estate loan / mortgage
le remboursement d’un prêt — loan repayment
une société de prêt hypothécaire — mortgage company

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!