Loathe vs. Loath: What’s the Difference?

As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, most of the confusions in language have nothing to do with grammar at all. Instead, the linguistic issues that writers and editors grapple with most commonly concern usage.

The words loathe and loath are good examples of two similar looking words that confuse people in their writing. They are only one letter apart from each other, and neither word is used all that often, so it’s easy to forget the distinction between them.

They do, however, have very different meanings, so, in order to keep your writing from looking sloppy, it’s best to have a good understanding of what separates the two.

What is the Difference Between Loathe and Loath?

The best way to understand the differences between these two words is to look at how they function within a sentence. Are they verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.?

Today, I want to go over loathe vs. loath, their definitions and functions, and give you a few tips to keep these words apart from each other. Let’s get started.

Loathe and loath both share a similar origin with each other, coming from Old English of Germanic origin. Loathe comes from the word laðian meaning to hate, to be disgusted with while loath comes from the word lað meaning hostile or spiteful.

Loathe has pretty much kept its original definition over time, but the same can’t be said for loath.

When to Use Loathe

what is the grammar of loathe and loathWhat does loathe mean? Loathe is a transitive verb, which means it takes an object.

Whenever you see the word loathe in a sentence, expect to see a direct object somewhere nearby. The definition of loathe is to feel intense dislike or disgust for someone or something.

For example,

  • I loathe reality television.
  • At the beginning of each week, I am reminded of how much I loathe Monday mornings.
  • I loved my time at university but loathed what the institution stood for.
  • But whether you like or loathe Farage, the beer-swilling politician has made an indelible mark on British politics. –The Washington Post

As you can see, to loathe something is to detest it or regard it with disgust. Loath, however, has a very different meaning.

When to Use Loath

What does loath mean? Loath, sometimes (rarely) spelled loth, is an adjective, which means it modifies nouns and pronouns. Loath is defined as unwilling or reluctant, disinclined.

For example,

  • The coach seemed loath to complimenting his players, fearing it would fuel their egos.
  • The young man was loath to purchase the same car that his 60-year-old father might be driving.
  • I was loath to leave the party because it was so much fun.
  • The chain had been loath to offer the type of loyalty program common in the restaurant industry, but recently introduced one for the first time to reward customers who visit frequently each month. –The Wall Street Journal

As you can see, loath is used is a very different context than loathe.

If you are loath to do something, you are reluctant to do it.

If you loathe something, you hate it.

How to Pronounce Loathe / Loath

The two words do have slightly difference pronunciations.

How to pronounce loathe: Loathe has a full voiced th and rhymes with the verb to clothe.

How to pronounce loath: Loath, on the other hand, rhymes with the words both and oath.

Trick to Remember the Difference

A good way to remember the difference between these words is to again remember their functions in the sentence.

You can remember that loathe is the verb because it ends in a t-h-e as do the verbs breathe, bathe, teethe, and clothe. If you remember to use this memory trick, you will be able to eliminate loath as a contender in your sentences.

Summary

Is it loathe or loath? It’s important to keep track of loath vs. loathe because they both have different meanings and different uses within the sentence structure.

Loathe is a verb and means to detest or dislike.

Loath is an adjective and means reluctant or unwilling.