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Language Arts

Lose vs. Loose



"Loose" and "lose" are often confused. Keep reading to find the definitions of the two similar-looking words "lose" and "loose." The article also compares when to use "lose" and when to use "loose."

You shoelace is loose. If you don’t stop and tie it, you may lose your shoe! This pair is an example of two words that look alike and are confused for that reason, even though their pronunciations are different and they’re not related.

Lose

Lose is a verb that can be transitive (taking an object) or intransitive (making meaning by itself, with no object).

Transitive verb: If I were to lose my mobile phone, I’d be in big trouble.

Intransitive verb: If we don’t focus on teamwork out on the playing field, we will lose.

The meanings of lose range from failing to win to failing to keep possession of something to getting rid of something to having something taken away against one’s will. Lose also forms part of the phrasal verb lose out:

If you don’t get out of bed, you will lose out on the freebies at the county fair!

Lose comes from the Middle English word losen, from an Old English word los, which meant loss. It is pronounced with a long /u/ sound and with the s sounding like z. It rhymes with news. 

Loose

Loose can also be both a transitive and intransitive verb.

Transitive verb: When you feel that you’ve sighted the target, loose the arrow.
 
It’s rare to find the form loose used in the intransitive sense.

Loose is also the positive form of an adjective, the form used for simple description. The comparative form is looser, while the superlative form is loosest. The meanings of loose range from untightened to relaxed to lacking restraint to in exact.

The elastic has stretched, and now my best baseball cap is loose.

Loose comes from Middle English, as does lose, but the Middle English form was louse and the word came from Old Norse lauss. Although the spelling difference between lose and loose lies in loose having an extra vowel•a second o•the difference in pronunciation lies in the way the s is pronounced. We said that in lose, the s is pronounced /z/. In loose, it is pronounced /s/.


Distinguishing Lose and Loose

The pronunciation issue is tricky not only because a change in the vowels is reflected in a sound change in a consonant but also partly because you can’t make a simple generalization about double and single o. You may have realized that loose rhymes with several other words with a double o: , moose, and noose. This looks useful only until you realize that lose rhymes with choose.

You can try this mnemonic to remember the difference between these two words:

Loose had an o that was loose. When it lost the second o, it became lose.

This can help you to associate the word with one o with the idea of loss, linking spelling and meaning.

Written by Mary Elizabeth