Lose vs. Loose vs. Loosen: What’s the Difference?

Lately, I have been getting a lot of emails asking about the difference between these three words. It’s true that they can be kind of confusing, especially if you’re just writing them without saying them aloud.

After all, lose and loose are only one letter apart from each other—one tiny little o tucked in the middle. But the price of mixing them up is high because they are all distinct words with their own meanings, so using the wrong word will confuse your reader.

What is the Difference Between Lose and Loose?

Today, I want to go over the definitions of all three of these words, the differences between them, and give you a few ways that you will easily be able to identify which is the correct word for your sentence. After reading this post, you won’t ever mix up lose vs. loose vs. loosen again.

When to Use Lose

loses versus looses gramamrWhat does lose mean? Lose functions as a verb, and its most common meanings, among many others, are to be deprived of or cease to have or retain (something one once had); become unable to find (someone or something); to fail to win; or to fail to use or take advantage of. For example,

  • Unfortunately, I lost all of my photos in the fire.
  • I lost my friend in the crowd.
  • Our team lost the game tonight.
  • Do not lose this opportunity.

Lose, when said aloud, has a Z sound to it. It rhymes with snooze and schmooze. Saying it aloud can help you when you’re not sure which one to use in your writing.

When to Use Loose

What does loose mean? Loose can function as an adjective and a verb. As an adjective, loose means not firmly or tightly held in place; not compact or dense; and free from restraint or confinement. For example,

  • I have a loose tooth.
  • Drive slowly on the loose gravel road.
  • He broke loose.

Loose also acts as a verb, meaning to set free; release from fastenings or restraints and to undo. For example,

  • The animals have been loosed.
  • The sails were loosed and we set off.

When to Use Loosen

What does loosen mean? Loosen functions as a verb, but it has a slightly different meaning than loose. To loosen means make less tight or firm; to make more lax. For example,

  • He loosened his shoelaces.
  • He loosened the knot on his tie.

Loose conveys the idea of complete release, whereas loosen refers only to a partial release.

Remember the Difference

A good way to keep track of these words in your writing is to say them aloud. As we said above, lose has a Z sound to it and rhymes with snooze and schmooze.

Loose, on the other hand, rhymes with goose. The best way to remember the difference between these words is to remember the following sentence,

  • A goose is on the loose.

This means that a goose has been unleashed and is free from confinement. If you can remember this sentence and say the words aloud while you are writing, you will be able to keep them straight.

Summary

These are three distinct words, all with their own meanings, so it is important to choose the right word, loose vs. lose.

Lose is a verb and means to be deprived of something. When said aloud it rhymes with snooze.

Loose is an adjective and a verb and means to release something from restraints and to set it free. This rhymes with goose.

Loosen is a verb and means to make less tight or ease a restraint, but not to set free completely.

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