Coarse and Course

Commonly Confused Words

coarse and course
A view of a golf course with sand traps. (Panoramic Images/Getty Images)

The words coarse and course are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The adjective coarse means rough, common, inferior, crude, or vulgar.

The noun course can mean several things, including path, playing field, mode of behavior, unit of study, and onward movement. As a verb, course means to move swiftly.

"Originally, it is true, coarse and course were the same word. But the difference in spelling and in meaning emerged in the 18th century, and the words have long since gone their separate ways."
(Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage; Oxford University Press, 2009)


Examples

  • "The early decades of Pinehurst golf courses featured fairways covered in coarse Bermuda grass and tees and greens made of a sand-clay mixture."
    (Lee Pace, The Golden Age of Pinehurst: The Story of the Rebirth of No. 2. The Universoty of North Carolina Press, 2012)
     
  • My sister dislikes the coarse language used by many of today's comedians.
     
  • "The door had a glass pane in it; behind the glass a lace curtain hung like a great coarse cobweb."
    (Robert Penn Warren, "Christmas Gift."  The Virginia Quarterly Review, 1938)
     
  • "At last he sighted the skiff himself, magically bobbing along the grim sea like a toller, a quarter of a mile to leeward on a direct course for home."
    (Lawrence Sargent Hall, "The Ledge." The Hudson Review, 1960)
     
  • After the first class meeting, several students decided to drop Dr. Legree's English course.
     
  • "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
    (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life. Harper, 1990)
     
  • The woman placed her hand on the grubby window as tears coursed down her face.
     

Idiom Alerts

  • On Course
    The expression on course means going in the right direction, moving forward as expected, or following a plan correctly.
    "In 2005, colleges were on course to give at least 200,000 more bachelor degrees to women than men, according to the National Center for Education Statistics."
    (Douglas B. Sosnik et al., Applebee's America. Simon & Schuster, 2006)
     
  • Take (or Run) Its Course
    The expression take (or run) its course means to let something progress or continue without interference.
    "To dock your boat, simply drive until the dock is southeast of you, kill the engine and let nature take its course."
    (Red Green [Steve Smith], How to Do Everything: From the Man Who Should Know. Anchor Canada, 2010)


Practice

(a) "When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required _____."
(Peter Drucker, quoted by John Tarant in Drucker: The Man Who Invented the Corporate Society, 1976)

(b) After failing the entrance exam, Bobo had to come up with a new _____ of action.

(c) The builder decided to use broken stones and other _____ materials for the foundation of the house.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

Answers to Practice Exercises: Coarse and Course

(a) "When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required course."
(Peter Drucker, quoted by John Tarant in Drucker: The Man Who Invented the Corporate Society, 1976)

(b) After failing the entrance exam, Bobo had to come up with a new course of action.

(c) The builder decided to use broken stones and other coarse materials for the foundation of the house.

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words