• 3-minute read
  • 22nd September 2015

Word Choice: Borne vs. Born

Some of the most common mistakes we see at Proofed are related to the misuse of homophones. These are words which sound the same when spoken but differ in their meaning, such as ‘borne’ and ‘born’. Avoiding this kind of error is paramount in both academic writing and business, as well as in any situation that demands clear communication.

‘Borne’ and ‘born’ are great examples of this, as being separated in spelling by one little ‘e’ means they’re very easy to confuse. Despite this, they are also completely separate words, so it’s important to know the difference.

There is, after all, a big distinction between being ‘born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth’ (i.e. to come from a privileged background) and being ‘borne with a silver spoon in one’s mouth’ (i.e. to be carried while chewing cutlery). As such, we’ve prepared this guide to clarify how ‘born’ and ‘borne’ should be used.

Born to Be Wild

The more common of these words is ‘born’, which means ‘existing as a result of birth’:

Charlotte was born on a hot day in January 1992.

This is also why we say that someone from another country is ‘German-born’ or ‘Canada-born’, etc. Likewise, it’s common to hear that someone was ‘born to do’ something (e.g. the Steppenwolf song ‘Born to be Wild’).

In addition, ‘born’ can be used more figuratively to mean ‘arising from/of’:

His success was born of good fortune, rather than wise investment.

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Borne Aloft

The word ‘borne’, meanwhile, is the past participle of ‘bear’, meaning ‘to have carried’. Thus when a sports team wins a championship, we might say:

The captain was carried around the stadium, borne aloft by her team mates.

Alternatively, if a company is liable for a mistake, they might issue a press release saying that:

All costs for this recall will be borne by the company.

This is where we get adjectives like ‘waterborne’ that describe something which is carried by something else (e.g. ‘waterborne bacteria’) from.

Another past tense version of ‘bear’ is ‘bore’, such as in ‘the apple tree bore delicious apples’. The difference here is between the active and passive voice.

  • In the phrase ‘the apple tree bore delicious apples’, for instance, the subject of the sentence (‘the apple tree’) is actively bearing applies, so ‘bore’ is used.
  • In the phrase ‘the apples were borne by the apple tree’, on the other hand, ‘the apples’ are not doing anything, so the passive ‘borne’ is used.

If you’ve found this guide helpful, don’t forget to check out the word choice section of our academic blog. And if you’d like the proofreaders at Proofed to check your work, try our 500-word free sample service today.

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