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I hear and read the term "borrow off" frequently however I say "borrow from" as that makes more sense to me. Is it grammatically incorrect to say, "may I borrow the book off your friend"? In my mind this sounds as though the book is on the friend?

Edit: The use of "off" and "from" isn't solely related to the word "borrow". I hear "off" used in sentences like "I bought it off eBay".

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Sounds to me like an amalgam of "borrow from" and "take off one's hands" (which has nothing to do with amputation: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/take+off+hands). –  Doug Oct 5 '10 at 12:55
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5 Answers 5

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This is colloquial grammar used in England, and occurs with other verbs that indicate acquisition; "steal off" and "hear off" are other common examples. It is technically incorrect from a purist's perspective, but is nonetheless in frequent use.

The replacement of "from" with "off" carries a slightly stronger sense of the act of taking, but the construction carries a distinctly lower-class sense and is to be avoided in polite or formal situations.

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A further perversion (to a purist) is the form “borrow off of” — more generally, there’s a decreasing progression of formality/prestige in ‘from’/‘off’/‘off of’. Cf. the question english.stackexchange.com/questions/619/off-of-vs-off –  PLL Dec 24 '10 at 3:09
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What really yanks my chain is when people say "Based off of". So it's completely unrelated to it? Oh you mean Based on, because that makes sense (and is shorter). Grrrrrr. –  Matt Эллен Apr 7 '11 at 7:34
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As an American English speaker, I have never heard borrow off, always borrow from.

According to online usage guides, borrow from is standard. The sites on the first page of google results for "borrow off" that aren't usage guides or completely irrelevant (such as "borrow off-limits" or "borrow off-campus") are from the .au domain (example 1; example 2) -- perhaps this is an Australian colloquialism?

In response to your question, this is not an issue of grammatical correctness; English prepositions often don't make sense when interpreted spatially (your example of the book being on your friend). But borrow from is certainly nonstandard.

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The most recent instance of "borrow off", and the one that prompted me to post this question, was on a podcast by an American. –  soutarm Oct 5 '10 at 5:58
    
'Borrow off' is common in parts of England, though I would say it was non-standard. Some people say 'lend off', which is doubly non-standard. –  Colin Fine Oct 5 '10 at 9:37
    
I have heard Americans say "borrow off". Not too common but it happens. –  Muhd May 1 '12 at 20:04
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"Off" generally carries the connotation of removal in American English. So to "borrow off" someone is to remove (with permission) the item in question from the object of the sentence. It's not technically correct, but definitely in common usage.

I've heard it more often used when the speaker doesn't think the object will miss the subject of the preposition.

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This is a phrasal verb and these are common in the English language. When you come across an adjective and preposition or adverb used in conjunction like 'borrow off' the term will often have a meaning that is not directly related to the definitions of the words. How often do you say that you 'hung out' with your friends? When was the last time that you 'shut off' a light? Hanging out with your friends has very little to do with hanging or being out and I'd be very interested to see how you attempt to shut a light. While you can dispute whether or not these terms are grammatically correct the fact will remain that they are in common use and will continue to be so. It's more important to understand how you are using language than to know if its deemed grammatically 'right' or 'wrong'.

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While I agree with the sentiment that idioms needn't have a literal meaning to be valid English, I think I would take the point on understanding language use a step further. The original question was really two separate points - is the phrase grammatically correct, and should one use it? There are plenty of phrases which I am well aware of being in common usage, but their grammatical incorrectness means I would never use them, in which case my answer to both would be the same: no. –  naughtilus Jul 9 at 8:45
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It's a good test of logic that the opposite should be untrue for something to be true. Similarly, 'borrow from' aligns perfectly with 'lend to', whereas 'borrow off' does not result in 'lending on', except in the special situation of lending with security.

However, in my Edinburgh dialect, borrowing off, or even 'borraein aff' sounds natural to my ear. It might be interesting for an expert to tell us whether the germanic/scandinavian/viking usage which dominates colloquial northern english and scots would result in 'borrow off', and the received speech imposed by the imported aristocracy with its french origins would favour 'borrow from'?

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Idiom does not obey logic. For example, we turn out or put out the lights, but we do not turn in or put them in later. But in any case it is unclear what your answer is. Please answer the question directly and provide supporting evidence. Thanks. –  MετάEd Apr 26 '13 at 4:06
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