Lose vs. Loose: How to Choose the Right Word

One letter can make a big difference in the meaning of these two words

Black chessman knocked down by white king
Lost chess game. Black chessman knocked down by white king. Michael H / Getty Images

Although it’s easy to lose what is loose, one letter makes a significant difference between the meaning of these two words. Lose, a verb, most often refers to failing to get something, while loose is usually used as an adjective to designate something that is not tight or has been freed from restraints. 

How to Use Lose

Lose is a verb that means when you fail to win something, such as a sports game, or when you have failed to take advantage of something, like an opportunity. It also means when you have misplaced something and are unable to find it, such as losing your keys or losing your sense of direction in a new place. Finally, it can refer to something that you are freeing yourself from. For example, many people to try to lose weight or lose bad habits because they want to get rid of them.

How to Use Loose

Most often, loose is an adjective that can refer to something that is not tight or fixed. This can be used when talking about clothing—loose pants might require a belt—or something more intangible. For example, someone with loose morals would not follow a strict moral code. Loose can also refer to something that is lacking in precision, such as a loose approximation, or an approximation that is not entirely accurate, as well as something that has been freed from restraint, like an animal set loose. 

It can also be used as a noun: “on the loose” refers to someone who is “at large,” such as a criminal who is running from the police. 

Finally, loose can be used as a verb. Its most common verb usage refers to “relaxing,” but it can also be used to mean “released” or “set free,” such as when someone looses their fury on someone or looses their guard dogs on visitors. However, it is uncommon to see “loose” used in this way, and it most often appears as an adjective. 

Examples

  • The ring was too loose on her finger, and Sarah was worried it would slip off and she would lose it: In this sentence, loose describes how the ring does not fit properly and is not tight enough on Sarah’s finger, which makes her worried that it will fall off and she will misplace it. 
  • After losing the game, he decided he needed to loosen up by watching TV instead of getting stressed out: In this sentence, losing describes how he failed to win the game, and loosen refers to how he is opting to relax and unwind, rather than stay tense. 
  • Michael decided to start running in order to lose weight, but he had a loose grasp on maintaining a routine and didn’t work out on a regular basis: In this sentence, lose refers to Michael’s desire to free himself of extra weight, but loose indicates that he does not have a firm routine and is thus not working to meet his goal on a consistent basis. 
  • Harold was a decent writer, but many of his metaphors were loose and he would often lose his anger when criticized: In this sentence, loose describes how there is a lack of precision in Harold’s metaphors, suggesting they might be hard to follow or not well-written, and loses shows that Harold is setting free his anger when he doesn’t get the reception he wants. 

How to Remember the Difference

Though the two words have fairly different definitions, their spelling can make it easy to confuse them. One trick to tell them apart is to remember that if loose loses an “o,” it becomes the opposite of “to find.” You can also think of the double o’s in “loose” like the double o’s in “too”—something that is loose has too much space.

Sources

  • “Loose vs. Lose.” Grammarist, grammarist.com/usage/loose-lose/.
  • “Loose vs. Lose.” Grammarly, 13 May 2019, www.grammarly.com/blog/loose-lose/.
  • “Lose vs. Loose vs. Loosen: What's the Difference?” Writing Explained, 8 Dec. 2015, writingexplained.org/lose-versus-loose-difference.