*Born Of or Borne Of*

Here’s an interesting word-choice conundrum I came across in my copy editing recently: “A completely retooled Buick borne of German design, the Regal provides a smooth ride and luxury amenities.”

The first time I read through the article, I didn’t notice anything odd about that sentence. Only on my second pass did I notice the spelling of the word “borne.” (By the way, this is exactly why copy editors always do at least two passes. I’m always amazed at how much I can overlook the first time I read something yet catch the second time.)

“Borne,” in my mind, usually comes up in terms like “airborne virus.” I think of it as meaning “carried” or “transported.” So it seems to be completely distinct from “born,” which means “given birth to.” Babies are born, viruses are transported, and in my mind it was as easy as that

Of course, language is never as easy as that. So when I needed to get this right for the article, I looked it up.

“Borne” is a past tense of “to bear,” meaning “to carry.” But that got me thinking: This word isn’t quite as different from “born” as I had always considered it. After all, the very babies who get born are carried -- borne -- by their mothers. When I think about it this way, the distinction seems weaker.

What’s more, I’d never really thought much about the term “born of.”  I had always assumed it used “born” on purpose -- the car is the offspring of such-and-such engineering tradition. But I was starting to have doubts. Couldn’t this car be carried -- borne -- by this engineering tradition? Could it have been, metaphorically speaking, carried on the winds of change to a dealer near you?

Technically, sure. So you can use whichever you mean. But presumably you’d want the reader or listener to be clear on what you wanted to say. Usually, the best way to achieve that is to use the term most familiar to the reader instead of your own spin on one. So to find out which is more common in the term “born/e of,” we turn to some reference works.

“Webster’s New World Dictionary” lists both “born” and “borne” as past partciples of the verb “to bear.” And bear has a number of definitions, including “to carry” and even “to give birth to” (think “child bearing”). So Webster’s confirms that “born” and “borne” are both born of the same word.

When bear means to give birth to, Webster’s notes, “the passive past participle in this sense is born when by does not follow.”

A baby is born. A passenger is borne. But when followed by the word “by,” both take borne. “He was borne by her.”

"Fowler’s Modern English Usage" takes an academic approach to these words. It says that the past participle of bear “in all senses except that of birth is ‘borne’ (I have borne with this too long; he was borne along by the wind); borne is also used, when the reference is to birth, (a) in the active (has borne no children), and “b) in the passive when ‘by’ follows (of all the children borne by her only one survived). The [past participle] in the sense of birth, when used passively without ‘by,’ or adjectivally, is born (he was born blind: a born fool; of all the children born to them; melancholoy born of solitidue; she was born in 1950)

Of course, none of this tells us for certain whether our Buick was born of German engineering or borne of it. To find out which is the standard expression, I turned to the dubiously handy arbiter of all modern usage issues: Google. Searching for a famous line from an old Helen Reddy song, I tried “it’s wisdom born of pain” -- 202,000 hits. Then I searched “it’s wisdom borne of pain” -- 52 hits.

The widsom I gleaned: “born” is better. And, yes, it was painful.

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8 Responses to “*Born Of or Borne Of*”

  1. There are more reliable arbiters for these issues than plain old Google.
    Try Google Books (Ngram viewer - http://books.google.com/ngrams/) or a proper corpus, such as the BNC (http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/using/index.xml?ID=simple).

  2. Or how about Columbia Journalism Review:

    It may have been just a typo, but it pops up from time to time: “Such reports seem born out by help-wanted advertising...” The correct spelling is “borne,” with an “e.” It’s one of two past participles of “to bear,” meaning (a) to give birth or (b) to carry. The one without the “e” is used for actual or figurative birth: a star is born, to a born loser; things are born of necessity or desperation; children are born out of wedlock. For everything else, including the cited form of “bear out,” meaning to prove or confirm, add the “e.” The star was borne by her unfortunate mother.

  3. There are at least three errors of logic in your post, June. The above responses to it offer sage advice.

  4. The "widsom" I gleaned?

  5. Your test relies on the correctness of Helen Reddy's spelling. I found 373M hits on Google for "man born of woman", and only 25M hits for "man borne of woman", but one of those 25M hits is Job 14:1 (1611 King James Bible): "Man that is borne of a woman, is of few dayes, and full of trouble."

  6. That's why copy editors would do well to actually read classic literature and not limit their efforts to "two passes of a text".

    What you speak of is a palpable distinction familiar to anyone who is not a stranger to the great works of literature.

    Unfortunately, this has become a minority group, as the bite-sized culture takes firm hold.

  7. Fun with "born vs. borne"...An annotated guide.

    I am merely a linguaphile with no credentials, but here is my contribution!

    Lets start with the idioms!

    An idiom is an expression peculiar to itself (see Merriam-Webster idiom definition ) and as such can break the conventional rules of grammar! (See Dictionary.com, idiom definition).

    "Born of “ and “Born out of " are idioms according to their Merriam-Webster definitions, so lets let them be and not worry about them!

    The word "born" and  germane to this discussion “bear" each have numerous meanings, but I'll just deal with the relevant ones here!

    Born and bear can each refer to childbirth...and childbirth can either be child centered based on “born” or mother centered based on “bear”! See dictionary.Cambridge.org , “bear” definition “born or borne”)

    Conjugation is easy for child centered birth : born, born, and born!
    (See cooljugator.com). Here are child centered examples:

    My grandson is being born as we speak!
    There is a baby born every minute!
    He was born in 1950!
    He wished he had been born in another era!

    Using “bear” to denote a mother carrying and giving birth is outdated (people say “had” now) but it’s still seen in older literature!
    So here are mother centered examples based on "bear!” Conjugation: bear, bore, and borne! (See cooljugator.com)

    She assents to bear a child.
    She bore a child last spring!
    She had borne six children in her lifetime!

    More on “born”...while “born" means human birth, it also means the birth of our thoughts, emotions and ideas! (See Collins Dictionary, “born” definition) (See Cambridge Dictionary, "born" definition). Also, born means to yield, bring forth, resulting from (see Merriam-Webster, born definition ) and bring into existence(see google word search, born):

    Anxiety born of the Covid era!
    A mind born of the computer age!
    Her own business was born!
    A new partnership born of necessity!
    A new nation was born!
    A star is born!

    Now back to "bear, bore and borne"!

    “Bear" has many other meanings, but I’ll just deal with two that I believe are most pertinent to this topic :

    Proven or confirmed (see Google word search, bear) :

    The market will bear out your astute stock choices!
    A year went by and your choices were indeed borne out! You made money!

    Carried (in addition to carry and give birth to a baby) and tolerate or endure (see Google word search, bear) :

    The disease was mosquito-borne!
    He was a veteran of the 22nd Airborne Division!
    She bore that burden for many years!
    He had borne the weight of his past mistakes!
    I can’t bear another pill!
    The small truck can’t bear the load!

    Whew!...I kindly submit the above for your approval! Thank you!


    People often ask, ”What about the phrase ‘bear fruit’...meaning to yield good things?”

    Cambridge labels it an idiom! Cooljugator declension is bear, bore and borne! But M-W says “born” may be substituted as an acceptable variant for “borne” in this context! (Author’s note: Makes sense, since idioms need not comply with the rules of grammar!)

    See “bear fruit “ definitions in Cambridge and M-W!
    See Cooljugator, “bear fruit.”
    - [ ]

  8. Hi…apropos the Helen Reddy contretemps above…fortunately the English language has three modes of expression that don’t need to comply with grammatical rules…besides idioms they include poetry, and song (poetry set to music)!