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English Lesson 12: Correct Use of Lose and Loose

May 31st, 2008

lose-loose-english-usage.jpgDue partly to over-reliance on spell checkers, incorrect usage of both lose and loose has become common on the Internet and occasionally occurs in offline printed documents as well. Technically, the two words are not homonyms because there is a slight difference in pronunciation; the s in lose is pronounced with a z sound, while the s in loose is pronounced as we would normally expect. They also mean very different things, which is why it is important to learn the proper usage of these words so that one can avoid confusion and embarrassment. First, let us review the various meanings of lose. In all of these cases, the word is used as a verb.

  • To misplace or fail to locate something; the opposite of find
    1. She managed to lose her keys by locking them in the car.
    2. Because flash drives tend to be small, one must be careful not to lose them.
  • To suffer defeat in a contest or struggle of some kind; the opposite of win
    1. The extra time and energy expended in fighting off the Viking invasion in the north of England was a significant factor in causing the Saxons to lose the battle of Hastings to the Normans in 1066.
    2. Our team will probably lose the game, but we will still have a winning record overall.
  • To give up or relinquish with regard to quantity or value; the opposite of gain
    1. If the quarterly earnings are lower than expected, our stock could lose at least five points in afternoon trading.
    2. With regular exercise, it is possible to lose five pounds or more in a week.
  • To suffer a loss due to an unfortunate event or circumstance
    1. We may lose some of our possessions if there is a fire in the building.
    2. We could lose one of our relatives if the disease proves to be fatal.
  • To evade or elude pursuers with the intention of avoiding detection and capture
    1. The vehicle was able to lose the police by using its off-road abilities and traveling through relatively rugged terrain.
    2. After the tax resisters were able to leave the country, the government goons managed to lose them.

Meanwhile, the word loose usually refers to being unfastened or unrestricted in some way. It is usually used as adjective but may occasionally be used as a verb.

  • Not fully bound, fastened, or held down; the opposite of tight
    1. If you turn the bolt in a counterclockwise direction, it will become loose and eventually can be removed.
    2. When a stack of papers is not clipped or stapled together, the pages will remain loose and are susceptible to being blown away by the wind.
  • Able to move around at will and act without restraint
    1. After escaping its tethers, the dog was able to run loose through the neighbor’s yard.
    2. Because of his use of unrestricted free speech, the blogger was regarded as somewhat of a loose cannon.
  • Not adhered to with accuracy or literal interpretation; the opposite of strict
    1. The movie was only loosely based on the history of Genghis Khan, which means the events that it portrayed are not necessarily historically accurate.
    2. Because of an incredibly loose interpretation of the Constitution’s commerce clause, the federal government has been able to enact many onerous laws that unfairly infringe upon our personal freedom with regard to both drugs and firearms.
  • To let go of, discharge, or release
    1. The English won the battle of Agincourt because their archers were able to loose large quantities of arrows at the hapless French knights.
    2. Once the crew was able to loose the ship from its moorings, it was free to sail to another port.

In actual usage, it seems to be more common for people to misspell lose as loose rather than the other way around, but both sets of errors occur frequently enough on web pages to attract notice. Here are some examples, along with the corrected versions.

Incorrect: She is a senior citizen and invested money she could not afford to loose. — Lois Center-Shabazz, author of “How to Loose Your Money In The Stock Market Fast” at MsFinancialSavvy.com

Correct: She is a senior citizen and invested money she could not afford to lose.

Incorrect: However, if you don’t have information you will loose your money, loose your drive, and loose your dedication. Loosing money is a dedication and drive killer. — Jon Hutcherson, author of “Opening A Nightclub” at JonHutcherson.com

Correct: However, if you don’t have information you will lose your money, lose your drive, and lose your dedication. Losing money is a dedication and drive killer.

Incorrect: I just strung my second racquet and it was too lose. — user “william” at tt.tennis-warehouse.com forum

Correct: I just strung my second racquet and it was too loose.

Incorrect: Do you want to bet that there isn’t at least one lose cannon in one of those living rooms? — user “rogozjin” at Reddit.com

Correct: Do you want to bet that there isn’t at least one loose cannon in one of those livingrooms?

Possible topics on my list for next week include peak vs. peek vs. pique, past vs. passed, sight vs. site vs. cite, hire vs. higher, and role vs. roll. Alternatively, I could take a break from the specific word groups and address issues such as verb tenses or the use of invalid words that are not actually considered standard English.

6 Responses to “English Lesson 12: Correct Use of Lose and Loose”

  1. comment number 1 by: G@ttoGiallo

    Very useful. I’m sometimes upset when I see the same kind of mistakes in french or italian, which are my languages, but even with my weak english I hardly stand mistakes, especially from english speaking people.

  2. comment number 2 by: Hugo Santos

    great post. you caught me on the Loose weight post hehe

  3. comment number 3 by: Shirley

    It is sad that you do not agree with the classification of these homonyms.
    Ask any English teacher or Professor of English and they will explain why loose and lose are classified as homonyms. Even though they are sometimes spoken differently they are still homonyms. Just Google these words to find the right answer. Then please correct your article so people can learn the right classification of these words. There are many words that are classified as homonyms that have a slight difference in sound when spoken but that does not mean they have been put in the wrong category.
    You really should be sure about the use and classification of words before writting articles about them.

  4. comment number 4 by: Morninghurts

    In response to Shirley:

    I found the tone of her comment somewhat offensive. I believe a comment questioning the classification of lose and loose could have been made with much more tact and courtesy.

    “You really should be sure about the use and classification of words before writting articles about them.” Googling does not always give you the “right answer”. As everyone knows, false information abounds on the web. One must evaluate the source to determine its authority in a particular field. This person did not do her research.

    “Even though they are sometimes spoken differently they are still homonyms.” SOMETIMES??? If someone pronounces these words the same, they are mispronouncing them - and that’s a different problem. Technically, the fact that they do not have the same pronunciation is the reason they are not homonyms - yet these certainly could be listed as confusing words.

    “Then please correct your article so people can learn the right classification of these words.” Karlonia, no need to correct your post. You ‘got it right the first time’.

    Thanks for another thoroughly researched article!

    An English instructor

  5. comment number 5 by: Meccanico di Veno

    It looks like you all missed “Smile your on camera”


  6. comment number 6 by: goosedmoose

    “Fastest way to lose a moose is with a loose noose.” as told by my witty late grandfather. But has helped in keeping the two “lose and loose”in check. But ALSO, why my user name on hundreds of Internet accts are goosedmoose. Which also came from his rendition of “Antlers in the treetops by “Who Goosed the Moose” But always felt his mystery novel “Spots on the Wall” by Hoo Slung Dung a much funnier read :o)

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