Two of the most commonly confused words in the English language are “loose” and “lose.” These two words are spelled differently, have different meanings, and are pronounced differently (meaning they’re NOT homophones) — but they look and sound similar enough to cause plenty of mistakes.
Let’s dive in now to a lesson on “loose” vs. “lose,” and how to use each correctly… plus a fun trick to remember each!
“Loose” Meaning and Examples
The word “loose” (with two “Os,” pronounced “loos”) is an adjective that means: floppy, too big, not tightly fitting or contained, vague, or not securely attached or connected. Think of a shirt that’s five sizes too big, or a rickety cart that’s about to fall apart. An example sentence with “loose” would be something I actually said to my son last week: “That baby tooth is so loose, I bet it will fall out today!”
The word “loose” can also be a verb that means: to set free, untie, unleash, or make less tight. For example, you could say, “I loosed the pigs from their pen and now they’re eating all our pie,” or, “The octopus loosed its tentacles’ grip on me, and I was able to swim free.”
As an adverb, “loose” often modifies the verb “fitting,” as in the sentence: “That shoe is so loose-fitting, you’re bound to trip and go SPLAT in the mud!” (Yes, that “splat” is onomatopoeia.)
Unlike “loose,” the word “lose” (with one “O,” pronounced “luz”) is a verb that means: to not be able to find something, to not win a game, to not be able to keep something, to have less and less of something over time, or to get away from. Sheesh — that’s a lot of meanings! You can see more detail in this classy dictionary entry about the many definitions of “lose.”
Example Sentences with “Lose”
Did I lose you with my long definition for “lose?” I hope not, and I hope you will lose any fear you have about this word, so you won’t lose any points on future English tests!
How to Remember “Loose” vs. “Lose”
Now that we understand the meaning of “loose” vs. “lose,” how can we solidify the spelling of each into our minds? Here’s a fun trick: The word “Loose” plays fast and loose with the “Os,” meaning there are TWO “Os” rolling around in there. Meanwhile, the word “Lose” has only one “O” because you lose the second “O!”
Phrases That Use “Loose” vs. “Lose”
There are series of common phrases, idioms, and expressions that use either “loose” or “lose,” so let’s list them to make sure we get the correctly spelled option in there (either two “Os” or one).
Phrases that use “Loose” (Two “Os”):
- To let loose (to set free, or to go wild)
- On the loose (free or escaped)
- To play fast and loose (take dangerous risks, in an exciting way)
- To have a screw loose (be a little crazy or dimwitted)
- To cut loose (relax in a wild and unleashed way, or to separate from)
- To break or hang loose (same as “cut loose”)
- All h*ll breaks loose (everything goes crazy)
- A loose tongue (sharing too much information)
- Loose lips sink ships (gossip causes big problems)
- Loose ends (unresolved situations)
- To be at loose ends (to not know what to do)
- A loose cannon (someone who’s unpredictable in a dangerous way)
Phrases that use “Lose” (One “O”):
- Lose your nerve (not do something because of fear)
- Lose your voice (get a sore throat)
- Lose ground (make negative progress on something)
- Lose face (become embarrassed or have a blow to one’s reputation)
- Lose it (go crazy or get very angry)
- Lose out (miss an opportunity)
- Lose your way (go the wrong direction, either literally or figuratively)
- Lose your shirt (go broke and have no money)
- Lose weight (get in shape or become slimmer)
- Lose your marbles (have diminished mental functioning)
- Lose yourself in (become deeply focused in something)
- Lose your lunch (be nauseous or throw up)
- Lose your head (get very agitated)
- Nothing to lose (might as well try something)
- Lose your grip on reality (go crazy)
- Lose touch (fall out of contact with someone, or with a concept)
- Lose sleep over (be worried about and fixating on something)
Looser vs. Loser:
What about variations of “loose” and “lose?” Though they look and sound similar, the words “looser” and “loser” are not the same. “Looser” (pronounced “loo-sr”) is an adjective that means “more loose” (as in a shirt that is even baggier than the first one). “Loser” (pronounced “loo-zr”) is a person who loses a game, or an insult saying a person isn’t cool.
Loose or Lose VIDEO:
Loose vs. Lose in Sum
I hope you now have at least a loose understanding of the difference between “loose” vs. “lose,” and the correct word to use in each situation. Hopefully my cartoon drawings here will help you to not lose the memory of the “O” spelling trick!
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!