Borne vs. Born: Easy Ways to Remember the Difference

Is it food-born illness or food-borne illness? Does your birthday mark the day you were born or the day you were borne? Despite these words being pronounced (and nearly spelled) the same way, they have different meanings. Keep reading for explanations and examples of borne vs. born, and you'll never doubt their usage again.

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Borne: Carried By

Borne is a past participle of the verb "to bear," meaning "to carry" or "to transmit." Borne can also mean "to endure."

  • Listeria is a food-borne illness that can make you very sick.
  • The flu is an example of an airborne disease.
  • The company has borne financial losses for years.

In some cases, borne has a birth connotation, but only when describing the mother, not the baby. It has a past perfect use that describes the mother carrying the child as well as giving birth. Some examples include:

  • My mother had borne three daughters before she gave birth to me.
  • News spread that the queen finally had borne a son.
  • When we heard that my sister had borne her first child, we called her immediately.

If these sentences feel awkward to you, that's because this use of borne is a bit old-fashioned. In modern writing, you're more likely to see the word "had" instead when talking about giving birth. However, using borne to describe the mother's actions, not the baby being born, is grammatically correct.

Born: Referring to Birth

You're probably more familiar with the word born, which means "brought into the world from birth." It's a past participle of the verb bear when specifically describing a woman bearing a child. Born is more common than the past tense verb birthed, which means the same thing. You always use a form of "to be" when using born as a verb because it's passive — the baby is born, but the mother is doing the bearing.

For example:

  • Your birthday celebrates the day you were born.
  • When my sister was born, I was suddenly a big brother.
  • Maya helped the mother cat after her kittens were born.

Like all participles, born can also function as an adjective to describe more about a noun or another adjective. Some examples of born as an adjective include:

  • Raphael's Italian-born mother moved to the United States when she was a child.
  • My grandmother was a born leader.
  • Even though I was born poor, I had many advantages in life.

Note that in all these sentences, born literally describes the act of a life beginning when someone gives birth. When you're choosing a word to describe that act, use born.

Tricky Phrases Using Born vs. Borne

The biggest cause for confusion when using borne vs. born are the colloquial phrases born out of and borne out. Just like borne vs. born, they are almost the same — but not quite.

Borne Out

You can use borne in the common phrase "borne out," which means that something has been confirmed or proven.

  • My fears were borne out when I saw that the baby's temperature was 102 degrees.
  • Dr. Powell's hypothesis was borne out after the results of the experiment were clear.
  • The weather forecast was borne out by the rain this morning.

Another common phrase that uses borne is "the plan has borne fruit," which means that it has been proven. It would be easy to use born by mistake in these cases since it seems like confirming results would be a metaphorical birth of some kind. However, if you're trying to say that something was confirmed, you use borne out.

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Born Out Of

Born has a metaphorical use in the phrase "born out of" when something is figuratively born. It describes something that was given life by something else, but perhaps not literally. For example:

  • Our friendship was born out of our common love of music.
  • Arthur's frustration was born out of his lack of control in life.
  • His decision to rob the bank was born out of desperation.

Because these situations don't literally describe a baby being born, many people use borne instead. However, the definition of borne — "to carry" — doesn't apply here. If you want to use the word "of" in your sentence, use born.

How to Remember the Difference

The easiest way to remember the difference between borne vs. born is by remembering the word "childbirth." Do you see an "e?" There isn't one — just like there's no "e" in born, which is the word you use when describing "childbirth."

Another way to remember the difference is to think of the word borne carrying the letter "e," just like an insect would carry an insect-borne illness. That should help you remember that borne means "to carry!"

More Confusing Homophones

Borne vs. born are homophones, which means that they sound the same but are spelled differently and have different definitions. Homophones are great poetic devices, but they can be confusing when you're trying to choose the correct word. Clear up more homophone misunderstandings with these tips on telling the difference between cite vs. site vs. sight.