ENGLISCH/938: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (202) - mend, fix or repair (SB)

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I wonder if you could explain me the difference between three English verbs. These verbs are: to fix, to mend and to repair ...

Olga T (Bratislava, Slovakia)


Dear Olga

Thank you for your letter. Well this is one of those questions which looks very easy unless you start thinking about it. Then it becomes more complex. But in fact, even if I thought fix, mend and repair had very similar meanings, there are several differences.

First there is formality: As you probably know, some verbs are used mostly in formal situations, writing and careful speech and not so common in ordinary conversation. Other words are most common in informal conversation when people don't need to be so careful about how they talk. And with "fix, mend and repair" there are certainly formality differences.

If I have a problem with my bike, I might say to my husband: "There is a problem with the break on my bike ...,

I'm going to see if I can mend it,
I'm gonna 'see if I can fix it."

If I can't mend it myself I would take it to a bike-shop. But there, I might talk more formally, because I don't know the people and so I would say something like this: "I've got a problem with the break on my bicycle, ...

can you repair it?"

So you see, "mend" and "fix" are quite informal, especially "fix". Whereas "repair" is more formal.

But it's not quite that simple, because there is a meaning difference as well. For most things I can say "mend" or "fix" as well as "repair". I can mend or fix or repair a bike, I can mend or fix or repair a TV, I can mend or fix or repair a broken door lock, but just suppose it is a piece of clothing or a curtain. So be careful:

You can mend a piece of clothing, you can mend a shirt,
you can mend a doll or you can mend a torn curtain, but

you can't "fix" it.

If you want to be even more precise, you can follow these guidelines:

1. You "fix" the whole thing or situation.
When we use "fix" we focus on the general problem and want something to go back to how it was before.

2. You "repair" a certain part of the thing.
When a machine or technology doesn't work, it's usually because one part of it is broken. Then we use "repair".
You would fix your bike by repairing the wheel.

3. You mend something less complicated and flexible.
You don't need a professional to mend something, because it is usually easier and quicker done by yourself.

Last but least there is the British English versus American English factor:

I only use "fix" for things that work: machines, apparatuses, appliances. But it's not quite that simple either, because there is a also a difference between British and American English. I am talking about my bike and I can mend it or fix it. That is both possible. But if my husband has a problem with his bike, he doesn't tell me he is going to mend it, he tells me he will fix it and he won't say mend, because it is too complicated for him, but because he is American.

Americans don't use mend as much as British people do. They think it's old fashioned and use fix much more often. He would only use mend for clothes, curtains, sheets and suchlike. He would never use mend for a bike, a dishwasher, a computer or a broken chair. The word fix is very common in informal American English and more and more used in British English, because American English influences the British language very much.

There is a American saying, that I like, and I'd like to share with you: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Which means, if something is working all right, you better leave it as it is. Travelling in America I also saw a sign once, outside a repair shop: "If we can't fix it, it ain't broke."

To sum up so far: repair is more formal, fix is only used in British English for things that work, machines and so on, and in American English "mend" is pretty much restricted to fabric and materials such as clothes, sheets or curtains.

You see, the difference between fix, mend and repair is quite a page- filling, fascinating sort of question.

Hoping that this is not too much and will help to mend some of the gaps in your English vocabulary ...

Miranda Gobbledygook

29. Mai 2018

Zur Tagesausgabe / Zum Seitenanfang