September 9, 2010

Weekly Language Usage Tips: loan or lend & the subjunctive mood

Posted in lend/loan, subjunctive at 9:01 am by dlseltzer

I am reading a couple of books that I wanted to recommend to you. I am actually reading three books now, but one is a mystery which is my means of escape from the toil of everyday life. The other two books, which I am enjoying tremendously, have very different subjects. One is Presentation Zen: Simple ideas on presentation design and delivery, by Garr Reynolds, which focuses on simplifying and doing away with those deadly boring PowerPoint presentations that we all know so well. He exhorts us to create more visual presentations. Reynolds is something of a presentation guru, and I was alerted to his work this summer by Ateev M and Bob A. As a result of exploring his website and reading his work, I have been modifying my presentations-trying to reduce the number of words and bullets and trying to include more imagery (but not clip art). The book is very intriguing and provides considerable food for thought. When you see one of my new presentations, please let me know what you think.

The other book I am reading is newly published (August, 2010) and focuses, not on imagery, but on words. It is The Glamour of Grammar: A guide to the magic and mystery of practical English, by Roy Peter Clark. Clark is a teacher and writer and, man, he is a snappy writer. His writing reminds me of why I love language so much. I don’t know if I agree with him about everything (I’ll let you know when I am done); however, he definitely has a way with words, and I am convinced that thoughtfully reading this work will improve my writing. It’s a book to both treasure and absorb.

They are both quick reads (if only there were more time), and I’ll keep them in the office so anyone can borrow them. Please do; I think you will enjoy them.

Tip 1: Loan or lend again

When I was writing the paragraph above to let you know that you could borrow the books, I was going to say that I was happy to lend the books, but I thought, “Do I use ‘loan’ or ‘lend’?” Thus, this tip, which I first addressed in April, 2009, was born.

The strict story is brief: ‘lend’ is the verb, and ‘loan’ is the noun.

The past tense of ‘lend’ is ‘lent,’ and the past tense of ‘loan’ is ‘loaned.’ ‘Loaned’ is not the past tense of ‘lend.’ Neither is ‘lended.’

The way the words are actually used is a bit more complicated. Both words are often used a verbs (but ‘lend’ can never be used as a noun).

Christopher lent his friend the class’s text for the hour.

Albert forgot the umbrella that Margaret had loaned him.

There are a number of other caveats about such use: Some say you can use ‘loan’ as a verb only when you are talking about loaning money; in all other instances, use ‘lend.’

Will you loan me twenty dollars until next week?

Others say that the only rule, here, is to always use ‘lend’ when you are talking about something figurative and ‘loan’ when you are talking about something physical or literal.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!

I loaned my ladder to the man next door, and I’m still waiting for him to return it.

Fowler says that ‘loan’ is one of his pesky ‘needless variants’ and is best not used at all. (He also referred to ‘loan’ as ‘formerly current’ which confused the heck out of me until I read it in a different context.)

Others say that the topic, itself, is rather unpleasant and objectionable (yikes).

Still others say that, at least in the US, the two words are interchangeable.

I am going to lend the politician some money.

You might have thought that I gave you my heart, but I just loaned it to you.

What do I say? I looked to see what my conclusion was before. It turned out that the issue of ‘lend’ and ‘loan’ was put into the ‘life is too short category.’ I maintain that position. As far as I am concerned, ‘loan’ can be a noun or a verb-figurative or literal (depending upon the context). However, keep in mind, that sticklers may be annoyed if you don’t stick to the tried and true ‘lend’ as a verb and ‘loan’ as a noun position.

Tip 2: The subjunctive

A reader writes:

Have you written about the use of the subjunctive (lately)?

From the NYT:

Op-Ed Contributor

How to End the Great Recession


Published: September 2, 2010

Even if nearly everyone was employed, the vast middle class still wouldn’t have enough money to buy what the economy is capable of producing.

Do you know what is wrong with the sentence the reader sent in? If so, then you don’t need me to explain about the subjunctive. For those of you who are not so sure, here’s the story:

In English, verb have moods-that’s enough to confuse a normal person right off the bat. Moods reveal the intention of the writer or speaker. There are basically three moods (however, depending on the source you look at, there can be as many as six or seven). In hopes of keeping this explanation simple, I am going to stick with three verbal moods: the indicative, the imperative, and the subjective.

The indicative is used to express intention and is a simple sentence or question:

The sun sets, and the moon rises.

Where are you going?

The imperative is used to make orders or requests:

Close the window.

Pick up the clothes.

The subjunctive. Well, the subjunctive is more interesting and, also, more complicated. The subjunctive expresses something that is contrary to fact. According to Garner, there are six uses for the subjunctive: conditions contrary to fact, suppositions, wishes, demands or commands, suggestions, and statements of necessity. All of these fall under the condition of contrary to fact so I will stick with that, simpler, definition.

If I were king, I would change a few rules around here.

I wish that I were able to dance as prettily as she.

I suggest that your position be more fully considered.

It is used primarily in conversation, and its usage has diminished over time with the exception of a few well known expressions (e.g., as it were, be that as it may, come what may, till death do us part, far be it from me, so be it). Some critics insist that its time has passed, and we should banish the subjunctive, but I disagree. It seems to me that anything that adds character to the English language is of value, and the subjunctive expresses an idea that would not be as clear otherwise. The idea of stripping this wording from the language saddens me. But, if we are going to use the subjunctive, it behooves us to use it correctly. In the New York Times article, quoted above, the sentence should read:

Even if nearly everyone were employed, the vast middle class still wouldn’t have enough money to buy what the economy is capable of producing.

By the way, I used the subjunctive in the first paragraph of this wlut, when I wrote:

They are both quick reads (if only there were more time), and I’ll keep them in the office so anyone can borrow them.

Finally, here’s a poem written by a naive teenager in 1970 who could not tell you what the subjunctive mood was, but managed to use it correctly nonetheless:

if it were
as it is not
and we were
not as
we think
then maybe
it would be
as it won’t
and we could
as it is
we are not
so no nows
but maybe when,

P.S. I just encountered my first disagreement the author of The Glamour of Grammar-I’m about halfway through the book. Clark supports the use of the singular ‘they’ to use when writing about something that is gender neutral. I detest the use of the singular ‘they’ and find it (them?) remarkably ugly and awkward. I would much prefer us to rewrite the sentence or make the subject plural than to use this terrible construction. Okay, after getting that off my chest, I went back and read the rest of the chapter. He has redeemed himself somewhat by saying, that the mismatch is fine for informal writing but for formal writing, he would rewrite the sentence. Since I so often make the distinction between informal and formal writing, I suppose I will allow Clark to, too. However, I wouldn’t use the singular ‘they’ even in informal writing!



  1. Collins Armah said,

    This is a good platform one to better his or her English. I have been writing academic papers as a posgraduate student and it was nice to get to know this blog. I like it. I just benefited.

  2. said,

    Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long
    as I provide credit and sources back to your website? My blog is in the exact same niche as yours and my visitors would
    really benefit from some of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this alright with you.

    • dlseltzer said,

      certainly. thanks for asking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: