Lose vs. loose?

The word lose is a verb that describes the act of loss, destruction, or failure. English speakers mainly use the word loose as an adjective to describe instability, insecurity, or the release of something. 

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What is the difference between loose vs. lose?

One of the most common mistakes English writers make involves mixing up terms like loose or lose. While we spell these easily confused words similarly, they’re pronounced differently and have separate meanings. Before we take a deep-dive into their definitions and usage, here’s a quick snapshot of their primary differences:

Lose and loose have different meanings

To put it simply, we generally use the word lose to describe any experience involving loss, failure, death, absence, or removal. But if you’re looking to describe disorganization, messiness, instability, or objects that are unfastened or released–– the right word to use is loose.

We can only write lose as a verb

Unlike loose, which is a verb, adjective, or adverb, we can only write the word lose as a verb. As an adjective, we can also write loose as “looser” or “loosest” or use “loosely” as an adverb. See the difference already?

In contrast, the verb lose doesn’t take the form of a noun unless used for “loser,” which is an incompetent person or someone who loses often. 

We spell lose and loose differently

The word lose contains one less letter “o” than loose, and this is true regardless of how their verb tenses. For example, the verb lose is written as lose, lost, or losing, which always contains one letter “o.” Meanwhile, the verb loose is written as loose, loosing, or loosed, and always uses two letter o’s. 

We pronounce lose and loose differently, too

Regardless of whether they’re adjectives, verbs, or adverbs, the words loose and lose are pronounced differently:

Since the word loose possesses two letter o’s, it’s pronounced as “lus.” It may also help to know that the word loose rhymes with “moose” or “douce.”

The word lose only has one “o,” so we pronounce the word as “luz,” with an emphasis on the z sound–– similar to words like “ooze” or “snooze.”

What about lose vs. loose vs. loosen?

While the words lose and loose have very different meanings, the verb loosen is synonymous with loose in its verb form. The main difference between loose and loosen is that the former exists as an individual verb. The infinitive ‘to loose’ is a separate word and provides different verb tenses, as well. 

Native speakers may write phrases like, “I loosened my grip” rather than “I loosed my grip,” but either verb means the same thing. The verb loosen is simply more common in the English Language than “loosed.”

How to remember the difference between loose vs. lose?

The easiest way to remember the difference between lose vs. loose is that the word lose has one letter o, just like the words “lost” or loser. The word loose has two letter o’s, just like it’s word-cousin “loosen” or “loosened.” 

As mentioned above, lost is a derivative form of the verb lose, while “loser” is a separate word and a noun that derives from lose. And while loosen is not the same word as loose, the verbs share identical meanings that allow the adjective form of loose to describe similar contexts. 

Summary

One O: Lose = lost = loser
Two O’s: Loose = loosen = loosened

Another easy way to learn the difference between lose vs. loose is to memorize the following phrases:

“Have nothing to lose

The cliché, “I have nothing to lose,” refers to scenarios where every outcome is so unappealing, that any attempt to make it better couldn’t make it worse. You could lose everything and be in the same situation as before.

Hang loose

Hang loose” is an informal, American phrase used to remind others to relax, be calm, and not-so-serious. 

Tidy-up loose ends

The phrase “tidy-up loose ends” describes situations where one addresses unfinished business.

What does loose mean?

Overall, the word loose is an adjective, verb, and adverb that describes a relaxed, slightly detached, insecure, or disorganized state of being. 

The key difference between each form is that the adjective loose may take the form of looser or loosest, while we can write loose as an adverb with “loosely.” On a similar note, the verb loose can take the form of loose, loosed, or loosing depending on whether it’s written in the past, present, or future tense. 

Loose as an adjective

1. Something capable of detaching, unsecured, or not firmly set-in place.
“The car doors are slightly loose.”
“The child has a loose tooth.

2. Untied, insecure, unfastened, or blousy container or group of objects. 
“The bag drawstring is tied too loose.”

3. An animal or person that has escaped or “at large” from a confined area.
“The wolves have escaped and are now on the loose.”
“We let the horses run loose through the property.”

4. Non-sticky, disjointed material that lacks friction. 
“The loose sand on the beach makes running more difficult and slow.”

5. Something that is not solid or compact in form, and otherwise described as disorganized and relaxed.
“Try not to slip your car wheels on loose gravel.”

6. An article of clothing that is oversized, baggy, and not form-fitting. 
“Some women enjoy wearing loose, button-up shirts instead of fitted, structured blouses.”

7. Non-rigid, strict, or precise.
“Creative writing assignments have loose guidelines.”
“They have a loose or flexible parenting style.”

Loose as an verb

1. The act of releasing or untying a restraint. In this sense, the word loose shares a definition with verbs like ‘release’ or phrases such as ‘set free’ and ‘let go.’ 
“He loosed his dogs from their kennel.”

2. The act of relaxing one’s hold or grip on another person, place, or thing. 
“I loosed my hold.”

3. The act of firing or discharging a projectile at something.
“The commander loosed his reserve of explosives.”

Loose as a noun

In the game of rugby, the term loose is a noun that describes a disorganized play or strategy. 
“That was a loose play!”

Loose as an adverb

As an adverb, the word loose describes something that occurs in a ‘flimsy manner.’ 
“The woman wears her hair down with loose curls.”

What does lose mean?

The word lose is a verb that describes the act of detachment, destruction, or failure. Since the word lose is a verb, we write the infinite ‘to lose’ differently for the past, present, and future tenses. We generally use “lose” for the present and future tenses and “lost” for the past tense, although there are exceptions to this rule for informal writing. 

Let’s take a look at the different way to define the verb lose

1. To damn or bring something into destruction,
“She knew she would lose her soul.”

2. To misplace an object or customary position.
“Don’t lose your camera.”

3. To be deprived through the loss of something, especially by accident; to lose a relationship or person from death or separation.
“American families may lose their dogs.”
“If you’re unkind, you may lose your partner.”

4. To lose control over one’s emotions.
“Try not to lose control over your emotions and erupt in anger.”

5. To lose allegiance while in a position of power. 
“Scandals cause politicians to lose votes.”

6. Allowing an opportunity to pass unutilized or the failure to succeed or understand. 
“Don’t lose the opportunity to grow.” 
“Act fast. There’s no time to lose.”

7. The inability to sustain or maintain an activity. 
“Be careful not to lose your balance.”

8. The act of wandering or becoming lost.
“If you don’t follow the path, you might lose your way home.”

9. To elude someone in a chase or avoid an encounter.
“We have to drive faster so that we don’t lose the suspect.”

10. The act of becoming engrossed or absorbed in thought or activity. 
“It’s best to lose yourself in your artwork.”

11. To throw-up or vomit. 
“That smell is making me lose my breakfast.”

12. To be ridden or freed of something. 
“I need to lose five pounds before summer.”

13. To experience suffering due to the deprivation of material value.
“Americans may lose substantial investments.”

14. To experience defeat or failure.
“We might lose the game later.”

Etymologies of loose vs. lose

The word lose entered the English dictionary around the 12th century with Middle English losian, which means ‘to perish,’ and los for ‘destruction.’ Before then, the Old English word lēosan meant ‘to lose’ and was related to Old Norse losa for ‘loosen.’ 

The evolution of lose throughout the English Language makes sense, though. Before Old or Middle English, the word lose derived from Latin luere, which means “to atone,” while the Greek word lyein translates to ‘loosen’ or ‘destroy.’ 

In contrast, the word loose did not appear in the English Language until the 13th century as an adjective and verb. During this time (i.e., Middle English), the word loose is written as ‘lous’ and derived from Old Norse ‘lauss.’ English speakers did not use the adverb form of loose, meaning ‘in a loose way‘ until the 15th century. 

How to write the verb lose in the past, present, and future tense

We write the infinitive verb ‘to lose‘ as lose, lost, or losing. The way we write any tense depends on whether the verb action takes place in the past, present, or future tenses. Additionally, each verb tense of lose is dependent on the sentence’s subject pronouns, like I, you, she, he, it, we, or they.

When to use lose

The word lose is written for the present and future tense, but it’s important to pay attention to pronouns like she, he, or it. Likewise, the future tense also uses lose in conjunction with “will.”  

Present tense

Lose: I, you, we, they.
Loses: She, he, it.
“I cannot lose this game.”
“If she loses this game…”

Future tense

Will lose: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“You will lose money.”

When to use lost

The word lost is written instead of lose for the simple past, future perfect, present perfect, and past perfect tenses. To make this possible, we use the word lost for the past participle and “having lost” for the perfect participle of “to lose.” 

Simple past tense

Lost: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“We lost the map.”

Future perfect tense

Will have lost: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“They will have lost the path by now.”

Present perfect tense

Have lost: I, you, we, they.
Has lost: She, he, it.
“We have lost our way.”
“He has lost his car.”

Past perfect tense

Had lost: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“It had lost our scent.”

When to use losing

The word losing is the present participle of the verb “to lose.” And, you might guess, we use the present participle for continuous past, present, and future tenses. Similar to lose or lost, the term losing may require prepositional words and phrases such as ‘am,’ ‘were,’ ‘have been,’ ‘will be,’ or ‘will have been.’ 

Present continuous tense

Am losing: I.
Are losing: You, we, they.
Is losing: She, he, it. 
“I am losing my mind.”
“We are losing the connection.”
“He is losing the house.”

Past continuous tense

Was losing: I, she, he, it.
Were losing: You, we, they.
“She was losing before then.”
“They were losing hope.”

Future continuous tense

Will be losing: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“I will be losing ten pounds.”

Present perfect continuous tense

Have been losing: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“We have been losing 3 inches per week.”

Past perfect continuous tense

Had been losing: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“It had been losing .04 points per day.”

Future perfect continuous tense

Will have been losing: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“They will have been losing daylight by mid-July.”

How to write the verb loose in the past, present, and future tense

Depending on tense, the infinitive ‘to loose is written as loose, loosed, or losing. The verbs loose and loosen have similar meanings, but the word loose is written very differently for the past, present, or future tenses. 

While using the words loosing or loosed is not common in English–– and they’re not always recognized by grammar programs such as Grammarly–– they’re still correct for certain tenses.

When to use loose

The word loose is written for the imperative “let’s loose” and utilizes its infinitive form for the present and future tenses. 

Present tense

Loose: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“He has a loose knee.”

Future tense

Will loose: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“I will loose the dogs into the yard.” 

When to use loosed

The word loosed consists of the past participle form of ‘to loose and represents the perfect participle with “having loosed.” We write the verb loosed when describing the simple past and perfect past, present, and future tenses. 

Simple past tense

Loosed: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“They loosed the seeds from the bag.”

Present perfect tense

Have loosed: I, you, we, they.
Has loosed: She, he, it.
“I have loosed the animals.”
“He has loosed the lions.”

Future perfect tense

Will have loosed: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“It will have loosed the fury upon us.”

Past perfect tense

Had loosed: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“You had loosed the birds by then.”

When to use loosing

The word loosing represents the present participle of the infinitive ‘to loose‘ and is written for all continuous tenses. 

Present continuous tense

Am loosing: I.
Are loosing: You, we, they.
Is loosing: She, he, it.
“I am loosing water from the dam.” 
“You are loosing water…”
“It is loosing water…”

Past continuous tense

Was loosing: I, she, he, it.
Were loosing: You, we, they.
“He was loosing cattle.”
“You were loosing cattle.”

Future continuous tense

Will be loosing: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“We will be loosing debt from affected businesses.” 

Present perfect continuous tense

Had been loosing: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“She had been loosing horses all day.”

Future perfect continuous tense

Will have been loosing: I, you, she, he, it, we, they.
“They will have been loosing ducks by then.”

Test Yourself!: loose vs. lose

Challenge your grammar know-how by choosing the correct word in the following sentences for lose vs. loose

  1. “I hope mom doesn’t ________ her car keys.”
    1. Lost
    2. Loose
    3. Lose
    4. Loosing
  2. “Teachers don’t like when their students wear ____________.”
    1. Loose pants
    2. Looser pants
    3. Lose pants
    4. Losing pants
  3. “You might __________ a lot of followers for writing a mean tweet.”
    1. Loose
    2. Lose
    3. Loosed
    4. Losed
  4. “Dad pays for parking with _____________.”
    1. Loosed change
    2. Loser change
    3. Lost change
    4. Loose change
  5. “Children get excited when they have a ___________.”
    1. Lost tooth
    2. Lose tooth
    3. Loose tooth
    4. Loose teeth

Answers

  1. C
  2. A
  3. B
  4. D
  5. C

Sources

  1. Lose.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  2. Lose.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  3. Lose.” Reverso Conjugation, Reverso-Softissimo, 2019.
  4. Loose.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  5. Loose.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  6. Loose.” Reverso Conjugation, Reverso-Softissimo, 2019.
  7. Loser.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  8. Loosen.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.