Loan Words: What Are Loan Words? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 2, 2023

What are loan words? If that's a question you've been asking yourself, you've come to the right place. This article will go into what loanwords are and how we use them in our writing every day.

In short:

  • Loan words are words borrowed from other languages that have been incorporated over time into the English language to the extent that we forget they were initially foreign words. 

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Loan Words?

Anyone who speaks English knows it's a language with a vast and rich vocabulary. There's a word for almost any situation, feeling, physical attribute, personality trait, etc. But we must be honest and recognize the depth of other languages' contribution to our own.

The term 'loan word' refers to a word that has been "borrowed" from another language. Still, it's actually a little complex to boil down since the English language has always been heavily influenced by other languages ever since the first person uttered the first word in English.

  • But if we're going to narrow it down, you could think of a loan word as a word that clearly originates from another language but that we use regularly, and you can find it in the dictionary.

Here are a few common loan words:

  • cello
  • origami
  • deja vu
  • pasta
  • cookie

If you look at the makeup of these words, it's clear that they come from other languages as they don't follow the usual spelling conventions we follow in English.

Different Types

You might wonder why they are called 'loan words' since we never intend to give them back. You might think of it as our way of crediting the words' original language. We use them, but we don't claim them as ours.

There are different levels of loan words.

  • Some retain their original spelling, even if they contain characters we don't have in our alphabet.
  • They also keep the same pronunciation.

Some examples include:

  • café
  • diva
  • tortilla
  • fajita
  • ciao

Then, there are those words that have been adapted over time. Either their spelling has changed, or we use an anglicized pronunciation.

Some examples include:

Loan words differ from words whose etymology comes from foreign words since this is the case for most words in the English language. You can track the origins of almost any word, and you'll find it comes from a different language. Etymonline is an excellent resource for that and can provide limitless fun (if you're a word nerd like me!).

So why are there so many of them in the English language? Well, I'm sure we could hypothesize for hours on this, and many would offer different explanations. But my favorite way to think of it is that if another language has a word that can express exactly what you're trying to say, but English doesn't, then why not use that?

Beware, though, you can't just take any old word from another language and use it in your writing. People wouldn't understand what you're saying! You'll have to use loan words that have already been borrowed.

Examples of Loan Words

We could spend a long time here, talking about the origins of the English language, how loan words came about, and what exactly they are (aren't all words loan words if you think about it?), but for the purposes of this website, which is understanding the role they play in English grammar and using them in your writing, I think we've covered what you need to know.

I'll now show you examples of loan words used in a sentence. You'll see them underlined.

Make sure you use your insect repellant, there are lots of mosquitoes here.

I met her at the movie premiere.

He's released a new Eau De Toilette, and it smells great!

You don't want to mess with the Mafia

It's 20 degrees Farheinheit.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on loan words; I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Loan words are words borrowed from other languages and incorporated into the English language.
  • Although they are loan words, we don't intend to return them. In fact, they usually end up in our dictionary.
  • Some maintain their original spelling and pronunciation, while others are adapted.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our Grammar Book. It's a free online database of grammar articles just like this one. You'll love it!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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