Loose, lose and loosen are three words that look and sound similar but have different meanings. Mixing the words up can make your speech and writing look and sound clumsy and perhaps cause confusion as to what you mean. Loose, lose and loosen join other words in English, such as loss, lost and loses, all of which can get easily confused, even by native speakers. Learning the difference between lose, loose and loosen is quite easy though, and there are some tricks you can learn to help remember how to use them correctly.
First of all, let’s look at the definitions of lose, loosen and loose:
*Loose can also be used as a verb, meaning to set free or unleash, such as he loosed the hounds or loosed off a shot (from a gun). This is no longer in common usage and you will rarely see or hear it, but it is still technically correct.
Lose and loose look very similar, and they are thus understandably confused in speech and writing. The meanings of loose and lose are very different, however, and the words have no relation to each other, so using them correctly is important.
Lose is mainly used as a verb, meaning to misplace, be deprived of something or to be defeated (in a game, match, contest, battle etc).
Loose is mainly used as an adjective, meaning non-tight or set free/escaped.
We use lose as a verb to indicate that something has been misplaced, a defeat has occurred, or we are being deprived of something.
As lose is a verb, it has different conjugations and participles like lost, loses, losing etc.
Some more examples:
In addition, lose is often used for countless idioms in English.
Lose also gets confused with the word loss, perhaps even more often than loose or loosen. The words are related, with loss used as a noun meaning the fact of losing someone or something. Lose is the verb, which means the action of someone or something losing something, whereas loss is a noun, referring to the event of losing something.
We use loose mostly as an adjective, describing something that is either ill-fitting or recently escaped from confinement.
So, we use the word loose in the sense of something that is not fastened (attached) tightly or securely:
But loose can also describe a more metaphorical untightening, as with money or policy:
Also, loose can mean broken free or escaped from confinement. In this scenario, loose often forms a compound verb with words like let, set or break.
As with lose, loose can also form the basis of some idioms in English.
We mostly use loosen as a verb to mean unfasten or untighten.
As a verb, loosen can have different conjugations and participles like loosened, loosens, loosening etc.
Loosen as a verb can also be used specifically to refer to money or policy in the sense of becoming more flexible.
As with lose and loose, loosen can be used to form many idioms in English.
It can be difficult to remember the difference between lose and loose & loosen, but there are some tricks to help you remember the difference. Some grammar experts recommend thinking of the following rhyme:
The double o in goose helps us remember to use loose, but it also directly refers to the meaning of loose, i.e. it means to unfasten or escape.
Another informal way of remembering is with the following maxim: