Troublesome verb pairs

Posted on May 21, 2019

A long time ago, a colleague corrected me when I said “I’ll bring it to her.” She was a native English speaker; I was not. But I grew up speaking English from an early age! How could I get this simple verb wrong? It came as a surprise to me to learn that there was a difference between “bring” and “take.”

Common verb sets like “bring” and “take,” “come” and “go,” “borrow” and “lend,” and “teach” and “learn” can be troublesome because we confuse their meanings—especially if English isn’t our mother tongue. And their verb forms can be tricky, too!

The difference between “bring” and “take”

“Bring” and “take” are not synonyms; they’re used for motion in opposite directions.


You ask someone to bring something (or someone) to the place where you are:

  • Can you get my shoes from the car and bring them to me?
  • Please bring the next candidate to my office.

You can also use “bring” for motion towards the person you’re talking to:

I’ll bring the appetizers over to your place this afternoon.

The past tense and past participle are “brought”:

  • Amanda brought me flowers while I was ill.
  • Jeff has brought us a souvenir of his trip to France.


You take something (or someone) away from the place where you are to another place. Also, someone else may take something from you to another place. Here are some examples:

  • I’m taking cinnamon buns to my sister’s home for Easter brunch.
  • Janet asked Mark to take her books back to the library.

The past tense is “took”; the past participle is “taken”:

  • Gord took the children to the carnival.
  • The injured child was taken from her arms and laid on a stretcher.

The difference between “come” and “go”

Another common pair of verbs that are often confusing are “come” and “go.” That’s because “come” and “go” (like “bring” and “take”) have similar meanings but are used for different directions.


Use the verb “come” to express motion toward you or toward the person you are speaking to:

  • Are you coming to my house for Easter?
    [motion toward you]
  • We’ll come over and help with the decorations.
    [motion toward the person you are speaking to]

The past tense is “came”; the past participle, “come”:

  • The prime minister came to our city after the flood.
  • If Miriam had come to the meeting, she would have heard the news.


Use the verb “go” for motion away from where you are or away from the location of the person you’re speaking to:

  • I’m going to Marisa’s house on Sunday.
    [You’ll be moving away from where you are now.]
  • Are you going to the reception?
    [The person you’re speaking to will be moving away from where they are now.]

The past tense is “went”; the past participle is “gone”:

  • Claudio went to his cottage for the weekend.
  • The dog has gone off down the street.

The difference between “borrow” and “lend”

Just like the two pairs of verbs above, “borrow” and “lend” confuse people because they have similar meanings but are used for different directions.


When you borrow something from someone, you take something that belongs to another person with the intention of returning it. The object that you are taking is moving from the owner of the object to you.

Would you like to borrow a pair of my gold earrings to wear with your new outfit?

“Borrow” is a regular verb, so the past tense and past participle are “borrowed”:

  • Patricia borrowed her grandmother’s pearls on her wedding day.
  • For the hike, Eric has borrowed his brother’s compass.


When you lend something to someone, you take something that belongs to you and give it to someone for a short period of time. The object that you are giving is moving from you (the owner of the object) to the other person.

I can lend you a book about Leonardo Da Vinci.

The past tense and past participle are “lent”:

  • Virginia lent me her sweater.
  • John has never lent his tools to anyone.

Difference between “teach” and “learn”

Again, the difference between these verbs has to do with opposite directions: out and in.


When you teach, information travels from you to another person. In other words, you give out information.

Gino’s mother is teaching him how to cook.

The past tense and past participle are “taught”:

  • Amal taught French in high school.
  • David has taught yoga for several years.


When you learn, information travels from a person to you. In other words, you take in information.

I am learning Cree.

The past tense and past participle are “learned” or “learnt”:

  • Jacob learned (or learnt) his lesson the hard way.
  • Lisa and Paul have learnt (or learned) how to sail.

Are there any other verbs you find troublesome? Let us know, and maybe we can help you figure them out!


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Josephine Versace

Josephine Versace

Josephine has worn many hats in her career as a language professional. She has worked as a translator, editor, writer, reviser and now as a language analyst for the Language Portal of Canada. In addition to English and French, she speaks Italian and dabbles in Spanish. She enjoys communicating with people through her work on the Portal.




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