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Loose vs. Lose vs. Loosen

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:
  • Lose is a verb, meaning to be deprived of something, defeated or unable to find something.
  • If the Dallas Cowboys lose their next match, they will be eliminated.
  • Drinking alcohol makes me lose my appetite.
  • Whenever I lose my keys, I always check my backpack twice.
  • Loose is primarily used as an adjective, meaning not-tight or ill-fitting. It can also mean broken free, with specific reference to caged animals or prisoners.
  • These pants feel too loose, I’ll need a smaller size.
  • One of those screws is loose, it needs to be tightened.
  • Three grizzly bears are on the loose; they escaped from San Diego Zoo.
*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.
  • Loosen is a verb, meaning to untie or make less strict.
  • The pilot loosened the straps on her seat, preparing for landing.
  • The government wished to loosen fiscal policy, especially in the banking sector.
  • Will the Warriors loosen their grip on the NBA title in 2019?

What is the Difference Between Loose and Lose?

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. More examples:
  • We can’t afford to lose any more money.
  • Two prisoners are on the loose after a daring prison-break.
  • A business can lose up to seven hours of productivity per employee due to traffic.
  • She wore a loose-fitting blouse and matching skirt.

When to Use Lose?

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, loseslosing etc. Some more examples:
  • They lost the dance competition, although making the final was still an achievement.
  • The US Dollar loses ground against GBP in the early trading on Wall Street.
  • We are losing the match, so we must change tactics.
  • I hope to lose weight before my wedding.
In addition, lose is often used for countless idioms in English. Some examples:
  • To lose one’s temper = to become angry.
  • To lose one’s mind = to become crazy, delirious.
  • To lose one’s tongue = to become unable to speak.
  • To lose one’s footing = to slip or fall.

Lose vs Loss

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. Examples:
  • This company loses money.
  • This company had a loss last quarter.
  • The team loses all the time.
  • The team suffers loss after loss.

When to Use Loose?

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:
  • In the 1990s, it was fashionable for teenagers to wear baggy, loose clothing.
  • Be careful on the stairs, as one of the steps has become loose.
But loose can also describe a more metaphorical untightening, as with money or policy:
  • He was quite loose with his money, spending it all on fast cars and wild parties.
  • The 116th Congress was characterized by a loose monetary 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.
  • The prisoners broke loose from Alcatraz.
  • Sauron set loose his army of orcs.
  • I would love to let loose all animals from captivity.
As with lose, loose can also form the basis of some idioms in English. Some examples:
  • Have a loose tongue = be talkative, gossipy.
  • Play fast and loose = act recklessly, ignoring the rules.
  • At loose ends = bored.

When to Use Loosen

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.
  • Hey, would you mind loosening this knot for me?
  • She watches on as the engineer deftly loosens the bolts.
  • Adding oil helped him loosen the screws.
Loosen as a verb can also be used specifically to refer to money or policy in the sense of becoming more flexible.
  • The Federal Reserve loosened monetary policy that year.
  • We should loosen banking regulations, make them less rigid.
As with lose and loose, loosen can be used to form many idioms in English. Some examples:
  • Loosen up! = Stop being so prudish/uptight.
  • Loosen the purse strings = To become freer with money.
  • Loosen one’s tongue = To become more talkative.


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 goose is on the loose.
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:
  • If I lose something, it becomes lost not loost.