Every so often, the most ordinary words can cause the greatest difficulty in our everyday language. The words lose and loose, for instance, are spelled nearly the same, but have very distinct meanings. The confusion results in people mixing up their meanings, their basic forms, and their modified forms (with suffixes). We will explain all possible variations of both words, and include definitions and examples.
By the way, if you listen carefully, you can hear the difference: Loose /luːs/ has a voiceless “s” sound and rhymes with “the use”, while (to) lose /luːz/ has a softer “s” and rhymes with “to use”. You can feel vibrations in your throat only for the second one.
The Main Challenge: Loose or lose?
The confusion between loose and lose arises from the many parts of speech both words can serve as. Generally speaking, we use loose as an adjective, whereas (to) lose appears mostly as a verb. Both words have several distinct, and sometimes even overlapping meanings:
- (physically) not fastened, held, secured, arranged, or combined; not solid
- figuratively detached from anything; free
- not fitting tightly
When did you discover your first loose tooth?
That is a very loose interpretation of our reading assignment.
This pair of baggy jeans is really loose, isn’t it?
- to be unable to continue possessing or maintaining
also: to suffer deprivation
- to fail to win, to suffer defeat
also: to fail to gain or obtain
- to be unable to find something again
also: to get rid of something
Unfortunately, 100 brave people had to lose their lives that day.
Atlanta was the losing team again.
Please don’t lose your ID. It’s quite cumbersome to get a new one.
Popular idioms with lose are:
- lose-lose, no-lose, use-it-or-lose-it
- to lose it, to lose heart, to lose face, to lose sleep, to lose sight, to lose ground, to lose your way / mind / touch / temper, to have nothing to lose, to lose the plot, lose track, lose count
- to lose out
While (to) lose predominantly serves as a verb, loose can appear as an adjective (see above), but also more rarely as a noun, or even as a verb.
- the act of letting go, or the freedom from restraint
- (sports): certain group of players (in rugby), or the release of an arrow (in archery)
- (archaic) laxity, indulgence, or abandonment
Lions escaped from the zoo yesterday, and are on the loose for hours now.
- to make something loose
- to allow something to affect a situation, or to let something (extreme) happen
- to set something free
also: to express opinions and feelings, to release an arrow from a bow
The heavy wind looses the thinning hair of the old lady.
Left-wing radicalism is loosed on the people because extremists think that their doings are justifiable.
We’ll loose our pigeon shortly. It is caged now.
Popular idioms with loose are:
- loose hair, loose tea, loose end, loose change, loose covers, a loose cannon
- to be at a loose end, to hang loose, to let something loose, to turn something loose, to stay loose, to set loose, to cut loose, to cast loose, to break loose, to tear loose.
Shoes, a tooth, and even the floor can be loose.
But if you have lost an “o”, then you are lose the first definition.
The Second Step: Looser or loser?
The challenge of distinguishing the two words doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. There are several modifications of both lose and loose:
- The verb, lose, has a third-person form: loses. For its past tense, you need to use lost and (have) lost, whereas its gerund form is losing.
- The adjective, loose, has a comparative form, meaning that something is looser than something else. Something might also be the most loose, or the 'loosest' (superlative form of 'loose').
- From its function as a noun, loose can derive looses, loose’s, and looses’.
- Loose (as a verb) can carry the same inflections as its counterpart lose, which makes the distinction even more perplexing: looses, loosed, (have) loosed, loosing.
Besides these direct modifications, there are even more expressions related to both words:
- Looseness (noun, the quality of being loose):
The looseness of this definition is recognizable to everybody.
- (to) Loosen (verb, synonym for (to) loose), including loosens, loosened, loosening:
You have to loosen the knot before you can use the sail.
- Loosely (adverb, similar to the adjective loose):
The keyboard was still loosely connected to the computer.
- Loosie / loosey (informal noun, US English, individually sold cigarettes).
Do you have a loosie for me, too?
- Loss, lossage, losings (money) (nouns, the result of losing something):
It’s their loss if they prefer not to meet us.
- Losable (adjective, describing something that is likely to get lost):
Your purse is so small! It would be too losable for me.
- Loser (noun, someone who loses all the time), including losers:
Your dad is such a loser!
- Loserdom, loserness, loserhood (nouns, characteristics of being a loser):
Due to his loserdom, he doesn’t have much money.
- Lost (adjective, unable to find the (metaphorical) way, or the direction):
We were getting lost, as you didn’t return our calls.
- Lostness (noun, the state of being lost):
She was well-known for her lostness.
As you can see, there are a large number of possible word derivations. So, the terms loser and looser both exist, and have entirely different definitions; this is where the confusion is at its peak.
Imagine that you are trying to double the “o” by making the word a bit looser.
But if you fail, you’re a loser because the second “o” can't fit.
Although there are many different forms of lose and loose, the following constructions are never correct:
Lose’sand loses’(as lose is never a noun), losestand losely(as lose is never an adjective), loosersand loosers’(as looser is never a noun), losen, losens, losened, losening(as losenis not a word)
Even if this seems like quite the number of potential forms of lose and loose, LanguageTool always knows which term to use. As an intelligent spelling and grammar checker, it corrects errors as you type and combines your loose ideas into a flawless text. You’ll never lose your words again—especially with the practical synonym feature, which helps you to distinguish between the several meanings of lose and loose.
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