Borrowing and lending in Chinese grammar: 借 (jiè), 借给 (jiègěi) and 跟…借 (gēn…jiè)

The words 借 (jiè), 借给 (jiègěi) and 跟…借 (gēn…jiè) in Chinese are all used to talk about borrowing and lending. Whilst English has separate words for “to borrow” and “to lend” (although not all native speakers are consistent with these), Chinese just has 借 to cover both senses. Which one it means depends on how the sentence is structured.

It probably makes sense to look at 借给 and 跟…借 first, as they are consistently “lend” and “borrow”, respectively. Then we’ll look at 借 in general, as it can mean either “borrow” or “lend”.

借给: to lend to

To talk about lending things to people in Chinese, you can use the word 借给. This is a nice word to use because it includes the preposition you need to you don’t need to think about it too much. Read more about this kind of verb-给 compound.

Remember though, that because 借给 is actually two words joined together (verb and preposition), it very often gets split up in Chinese sentences. You just have to get a feel for this by doing lots of listening and reading.

Some example sentences where 借给 stays together as one unit:

你能借给我点儿钱吗?

Nǐ néng jiè gěi wǒ diǎnr qián ma?

Can you lend me some money?

我愿意借给他钱,因为我相信他。

Wǒ yuànyì jiè gěi tā qián, yīnwèi wǒ xiāngxìn tā.

I'm willing to lend him money, because I trust him.

你借给他的那些东西收回了没有?

Nǐ jiè gěi tā dì nàxiē dōngxi shōuhuíle méiyǒu?

Have you got those things that you lent him back?

Some sentences where 借给 gets split up:

你可以借十块钱给我吗?

Nǐ kěyǐ jiè shí kuài qián gěi wǒ ma?

Could you lend me ten dollars?

我让他借那本书给我。

Wǒ ràng tā jiè nà běn shū gěi wǒ.

I got him to lend me that book.

你急需钱的话我可以借一些给你。

Nǐ jíxū qián dehuà wǒ kěyǐ jiè yīxiē gěi nǐ.

If you urgently need money I can you lend you some.

Because it talks about the disposal of the object, 借给 is often used with 把 (bǎ). Some examples:

她说服她妈妈把汽车借给她了。

Tā shuìfú tā māmā bǎ qìchē jiè gěi tāle.

She persuaded her mum to lend her the car.

你能把你的笔记借给我一下吗?

Nǐ néng bǎ nǐ de bǐjì jiè gěi wǒ yīxià ma?

Could you lend me your notes?

我把那本书借给他了, 可是他还没还给我。

Wǒ bǎ nà běn shū jiè gěi tāle, kěshì tā hái méi hái gěi wǒ.

I lent that book to him, but he still hasn't given it back.

The best way to deal with these different structures for 借给 is probably to include the example sentences above in your studies, e.g. in your SRS, and generally try to read and listen to as much Chinese as you can. This will give a natural feel for the sentences better than trying to memorise structures by rote.

跟…借: to borrow from

To talk about “borrowing from” as opposed to “lending to” you can use 跟…借, putting the person borrowed from in the middle. This is probably a bit easier to use than 借给, as there aren’t so many variations on the sentence structure. The basic structure is:

[borrower] 跟 [lender] 借 [item]

Some example sentences for 跟…借:

他经常跟图书馆借书。

Tā jīngcháng gēn túshū guǎn jiè shū.

He often borrows books from the library.

我跟她借了五百块钱。

Wǒ gēn tā jièle wǔbǎi kuài qián.

I borrowed five hundred dollars from her.

他跟我借了自行车。

Tā gēn wǒ jièle zìxíngchē.

He borrowed my bike.

As you can see from the example sentences, 跟…借 tends to be a bit more straightforward to use than 借给. Now we move on to 借 in general, which can be used in different ways to mean either “borrow” or “lend”.

借: borrowing or lending

When not used in one of the 借给 or 跟…借 structures, 借 can mean either “borrow” or “lend”. You just have to figure it out from context. Some example sentences for 借:

我可以借你的铅笔吗?

Wǒ kěyǐ jiè nǐ de qiānbǐ ma?

Can I borrow your pencil?

为了读学位,我可能得借一笔学生贷款。

Wèile dú xuéwèi, wǒ kěnéng de jiè yī bǐ xuéshēng dàikuǎn.

I might have to borrow a student loan to study for my degree.

我不想借出我的相机。

Wǒ bùxiǎng jiè wǒ de xiàngjī.

I don't want to lend my camera.

他很少借钱。

Tā hěn shǎo jiè qián.

He rarely borrows money. He rarely lends money.

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