In Hebrew there is a difference, although often overlooked in spoken Hebrew, between the word "to borrow" for something that is intended to be returned "as is" such as a tool or a vehicle, and the word "to borrow" for something that will not be returned, but an equivalent replacement such as money (the money returned will probably not be the very same coins or bills but different ones carrying the same value). To my understanding, "borrow" and "lend" don't have that difference in meaning. Is there any English equivalent?

  • Dutch has bietsen as an informal word for "borrowing" something that will be consumed, like a cigarette. There may or may not be a theoretical intention of giving back a (new) cigarette later. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 5:00
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    Similarly, English has the notion of "bumming" something, like a cigarette. But, there is no essential notion of repayment.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 5:09
  • It's more like taking on "credit" -- you don't return it but compensate for it at a later date (in cash, by default, but sometimes also in kind).
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 5:44
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    @Cerberus Bietsen is just another word for bedelen (begging). As far as I know there is never the intention to re-pay. (for the record: I am Dutch myself.)
    – Tonny
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 14:39
  • @Tonny: Yes, but it is in modern Dutch no longer used for begging, but only for "borrowing" cigarettes, don't you agree? Perhaps the intention of repaying is only present in the same sense that you are in a way supposed to buy drinks for everyone in your company later if you accept a round. If someone always bietses your cigarettes, without ever doing anything in return, you may feel slightly cheated. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 15:34

5 Answers 5


This is an excellent question. But, I do not believe that English has a sense of a difference between the two concepts.

Borrow and lend are opposite sides of the same equation. To lend is to allow someone to borrow. To borrow is to take someone else's loan.

I think you will have a greater peace with the idea if you think of borrowing money (or other valuable commodity) as being a loan of the fiat value of the money, and not the cash itself. Hence, you are returning the same item.


The word you're looking for (though it's an adjective) is fungible. A fungible item is one, such as money, where all versions are treated as identical: if you borrow $10, it's not expected that you somehow return the literal same $10. Non-fungible items are not treated as identical: if you borrow somebody's car, it's expected that you return that exact car, not some similar car or even another car of the same make and model.

While all forms of "borrow", "lend", etc have the same general meaning, you can specify something as being a fungible or non-fungible loan.

Of course, it's even less common in English than Hebrew, so most people other than economists and lawyers won't know what you're talking about.



Sup dude, ya spare a buck?

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    That has no sense of repayment, though.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 5:07
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    I think it depends on social context. If I said that to one of my friends, we know we have a history of give and take. If a guy on the street said that to me, then the sense is different.
    – 000
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 5:09
  • I can accept that. I just don't know that spare means lend in the same way. It's really a gift. That you and your friends repay each other is admirable, but I think it's more of cute thing where you pretend to beg off each other than a term for borrowing . . . Perhaps I'm wrong.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 5:12
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    spare is a fun example because it reverses persons. I don't spare when I ask you something, but I ask you if you can spare it.
    – wwkudu
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 5:47
  • For those tempted to downvote this: the second meaning of "to borrow" that's explained in the question above does not match the english version of "to borrow": if anything, it's closer to a loan or an exchange. True, the denotation of spare does not refer to anything resembling repayment, but I can see the connotation of "to spare" implying a repayment in some groups.
    – Marco
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 22:41

The word "borrow" always implies an intent to return the exact thing borrowed, unless the thing is money or the word is being used sarcastically. Otherwise, something like "trade" or "exchange" would be used.

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    I've just moved in next door. Do you think I could borrow a cup of sugar?
    – jwg
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 8:40
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    Only if you promise to use a fungible spoon. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 15:57

"Reciprocity" is the name of the social system covered by the second instance of Hebrew 'Borrow', and the 'drinks among friends' motif in the comments.

Basically, you exchange items or services without directly counting value but there is expectation of a return exchange at some unspecified future date. It doesn't even have to be a 1 for 1 exchange...but if someone doesn't reciprocate according to the unwritten rules they will become isolated from the group.

Of course this isn't a term in common use - like most of the steps in a reciprocity relation, the name for this type of transaction isn't mentioned. It might even be termed a gift...but with strings attached.

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