Born vs. borne?

Borne is the standard past participle of bear. Born is a past participle of bear within the passive verb “be born.”

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What is the difference between born and borne?

The words born and borne are practically the same word. Both terms are past participles of the verb bear, they derive from the same Old English word (beran), and they share pronunciations. But when it comes time to write, how we use these terms depends on context, passive voice, or if we use them as adjectives. 

According to Garner’s Modern English Usage, writers should only use bornas an adjective or as part of the fixed passive verb ‘to be born’ (Garner 122). More specifically, the word born needs to involve the concept of birth or innate qualities. For example, 

  • “He was born to dance” (passive verb)
  • I was born in the state of New York.” (passive verb)
  • “I am an Oregon-born writer.” (adjective) 
  • “She’s a natural-born singer.” (adjective) 

Borne is the standard past participle of the verb bear, so we can use borne for any interpretation that applies (just remember to keep the active voice while describing birth). For example, 

  • “She has borne a child.” 
  • “Witness the crimes he has borne.” 
  • I have borne this weight for too long.” 

As for the adjective borne, it is specifically combined with the object that carries or transports something (usually with a hyphen). For example, 

  • “The repellent helps prevent mosquito-borne diseases.”
  • “The child is sick from foodborne bacteria.” 

What does born mean as an adjective?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, there are three primary ways to use born as an adjective:

  1. To describe something “brought forth by birth,” native to a region, or derived from necessity. For example, 
  • “A German-born philosopher wrote The Communist Manifesto.”
  • “Alcoholism is not always a socioeconomic-born issue.” 

    2. To describe something or someone who possesses a certain quality or circumstance attained at birth (or from an early stage). For example, 
  • “Like his father, Picasso was a natural-born artist.” 
  • “The professor was a noble-born man.” 

    3. To describe someone or something that is destined to do something. For example, 
  • “The actress is a born entertainer.” 

Synonyms

[1]: Domestic, endemic, indigenous, local, native, original, regional.

[2]: Congenital, hereditary, inherent, innate, instinctual, intrinsic, natural. 

Antonyms

[1]: Exotic, foreign, imported, introduced, nonindigenous, nonnative, transplanted.

[2]: Cultivated, developed, foreign, trained, nonnatural, unnatural. 

What does borne mean as an adjective?

The adjective borne only describes something carried or transported by the object it is combined with (via hyphen or closed compound). For example, 

  • “Washing your hands before cooking helps prevent foodborne illness.”
  • “Springtime sickness is often triggered by pollen-borne allergies.”
  • “To prevent spreading coronavirus and other airborne diseases, doctors recommend wearing two facemasks.” 
  • “Malaria is an example of an insect-borne illness.” 

What does born and borne mean as verbs?

Born and borne are past participles of the verb bear, which we can generally define in five ways: 

  1. To carry the weight, support, or responsibility of something. 
  2. To endure, withstand, or tolerate something with difficulty. 
  3. To carry something (with body or vessel), whether it’s a person, object, name, trait, or conduct. 
  4. To produce offspring or fruit (animal or plant). 
  5. To change direction (in movement). 

Obviously, there’s a lot to work with here, but born and borne are not the only verb forms of bear. We also use the to-infinitive ‘to bear,’ ‘bear’ or ‘bears’ for the present tense, ‘bearing’ for the present participle, and ‘bore’ for the past tense. 

How to use bear in a sentence?

Outside of the past participle born, we can use any verb form of bear to discuss any regular meaning of bear. For example, 

  • “You cannot bring me to bear this any longer.”
  • “We can bear this storm together.” 
  • “Mother bore six children.”
  • “The visitors bore baskets of bread.”
  • We bore a resemblance at one time.”
  • “She is bearing a child.”
  • “The plants are bearing fruit.” 
  • “After the next block, bear right.” 

The only time we use born as a past participle is to discuss birth. Period. Oftentimes, this occurs within passive constructions, but there are times when it occurs without the auxiliary verb ‘to be.’ 

Active construction with born:

  • “Zoomers are people born between 1995 and the late 2010s.” 

Passive construction with born:

  • “The late jazz drummer was born on May 11, 1932.”

Quick note on bore

Before we move on, you should know that bore is not just the past tense form of “bear.” Outside of this verb, “bore” is also a noun and verb on its own.  

Bore as a verb:

  • To make a hole or hollow-out: “The teacher’s red pen bored into my essay.” 
  • To push an athletic competitor out of the way: “The champion swimmer erratically bored out his contenders on the diving board.” 
  • To make someone feel very uninterested in something: “The lesson on helping verbs will bore us to tears.” 

Bore as a noun:

  • Something or someone that is boring: “We love learning about suffixes, but modal verbs are such a bore.” 
  • The hollow part of a tube or gun barrel: “That magazine will not empty into a bore like that.” 
  • A borehole: “We need an artesian bore for our water supply.” 
  • A type of steep water wave caused by two gathering tides or a narrow estuary: “A large bore swept through the city’s water canals.” 

Additional reading for born vs. borne

If you enjoy learning about homophones like borne vs. born, check out The Word Counter’s lessons on: 

Test Yourself!

Follow-up your lesson on born vs. borne with a multiple-choice quiz. 

  1. True or false: born and borne are past participles of the same verb. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. The past participle born often occurs in _______________. 
    a. Active constructions
    b. Passive constructions
    c. The past tense
    d. B and C
  3. The words born and borne are both _______________.
    a. Prepositions
    b. Acronyms
    c. Adverbs
    d. Adjectives
  4. The adjective meaning of borne describes ____________. 
    a. The result of birth
    b. Locality
    c. Natural talent
    d. None of the above
  5. Phrasal adjectives containing born or borne often contain a ____________.
    a. Hyphen
    b. Apostrophe
    c. Suffix
    d. Modal verb

Answers

  1. A
  2. B
  3. D
  4. D
  5. A

Sources

  1. Bear.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021. 
  2. Bear.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  3. Born.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  4. Born.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  5. Borne.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  6. Borne.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  7. Garner, B. “Born; borne.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 122.