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“Lent” vs. “lent”: The Difference In What You’re Giving (Up)

Winter is a busy season for people who follow the Christian faith. The longest observed of the many religious dates that dot the winter calendar is Lent. To clarify for those who aren’t religious, Lent is not a time when people talk about things they’ve lent.

The words Lent (with a capital) and lent (always lowercase except at the start of a sentence) are homonyms, meaning that the two words are pronounced and spelled alike but have different meanings. Homonyms are similar to homophones (words that sound alike but may be spelled differently) and homographs (which are spelled the same but have different meanings and may sound different).

Knowing your Lent from your lent ensures you can distinguish between something you’ve lent and what people have given up for Lent. It’s also a lesson in homonyms and verb conjugation.

You heard us correctly: homonyms, homophones, and homographs are all distinct. Learn more about them here.

What does Lent mean?

Capital L Lent is the time period that starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, which is the day before Easter. It consists of 40 weekdays and 46 days total. Exactly which day Lent starts and which day it ends will depend on which day Easter is, because Easter Sunday is different every year.

A number of groups of people follow Lent, from Roman Catholics to Anglicans to Methodists, though not all Christians—Baptists, and Evangelicals for example—observe the pre-Easter tradition.

The first recorded use of Lent dates to before 900. It originally comes from the Old English læncte, which means “lengthening of daylight hours.” This original meaning gives some insight on when Lent is observed. The last day of Lent (the day before Easter) is the Saturday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, which is the first day of spring and the start of days that are longer than nights.

From a religious standpoint, Lent is when some who observe Easter reflect on Jesus’s death. Though fasting was once a central part of Lent and observers used to eat only one meal a day (and no meat, eggs, or butter), people now fast to varying degrees during Lent. Roman Catholics, for example, abstain from meat on the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday), the Friday before Easter (Good Friday), and every Friday during the seven weeks of Lent. People in other sects of modern Christianity may give up something they view as valuable or enjoyable, like chocolate or coffee or even video games, rather than fast.

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What does lent mean?

Lowercase lent is the simple past and past participle of the verb lend. Lend means to let someone borrow something with the full expectation that you will get that something back. It can also mean to donate your time or something tangible—to lend a helping hand, for example.

Just because you lent something to someone doesn’t mean it was borrowed for free, however. Lend is connected to the word loan as well, which is when something is lent and then given back with interest. In fact, lend originally comes from before 900 from the Middle English word lenden, which derives from the Old English and German word for loan.

In English, regular verbs form the past tense, as well as the past participle, by adding -ed or -d. For example, walk becomes walked, and smile becomes smiled. Lend is part of a group of verbs (like send and bend) that take on a -t at the end of the past tense and past participle due to the vowel in the root word. So lend becomes lent and sleep becomes slept.

So while you could have lent someone your collection of video games as you observe Lent, the religious observance of Lent has nothing to do with explicitly lending anything to anyone.

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Build your vocabulary while exploring the history and traditions surrounding Lent and Easter:

Lent

Ash Wednesday

Mardi Gras

Shrove Tuesday

Quinquagesima

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