Grammar

Born or Borne?

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Of the two words born or borne, the first one is usually well-understood. But the second one can be a bit more tricky. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Born or borne: The two words share the same pronunciation but not the same spelling or meaning.

Words like that are known as homophones, words that sound alike, but are different in other ways.

Let’s look at the two and how they can become a bit confusing.

Born

This one is the easier one because almost everyone is familiar with its most common usage.

It can be an adjective that refers to a birth:

He considered himself blessed to be a Southerner, born and raised.

It can also be connected to a place to show the place of which someone is native:

The Canadian-born actor made his TV debut Sunday night.

It can also refer to a quality or talent that seems to be natural, not learned:

As soon as Harry begins playing piano, you get the sense he was a born musician.

As a verb, it refers to a birth:

The baby was born at 10:35 a.m. at the hospital.

In the verb use, born is actually the past participle version of the verb bear, which means “to carry.”

This is where the confusion begins, however.

Borne

Like born, borne is also related to the verb bear. But unlike born, which refers to birth, borne refers to carrying or transmitting something.

You often hear of illnesses related to food contaminated with things like Listeria or Salmonella. Such conditions are known as foodborne illnesses.

Consider this example:

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness characterized by a bullseye-like rash and flu-like symptoms.

I visited a friend in California who had a Kumquat tree in his back yard.

The tree was healthy and had borne fruit.

Since we’re not talking about an actual birth, it’d be borne, not born. The kumquats, by the way, were delicious. Unlike other citrus fruit, you eat them peel and all.

So if you’re referring to the actual birth of a person or animal, literally or figuratively, you probably want born. If you’re referring to something that is carried or transmitted by something else, you probably want borne.

If you’re looking for an easy way to remember the difference, you might think of the E at the end of borne as standing for E. coli, a bacteria in food that can also make people sick.

(You may not need such memory aids, but sometimes this kind of trick can help avoid confusion!)

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.