- Lose is a verb that means “to fail to win, to misplace, or to free oneself from something or someone.”
- Loose is an adjective that means “not tight.”
- Only one O distinguishes loose from lose.
No wonder so many people confuse “loose or lose!” How are lose and loose defined? How can you remember the difference between the two terms?
Let’s turn to some authors to discover the three main definitions of the verb “to lose.” In a book associated with the television show The Biggest Loser, contest participant Darrell Hough stated: “Keep in mind that the more weight you lose, the more energy you’ll have for working out.” To lose means “to free oneself from something.”
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, you find this statement: “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.” In this sentence, to lose means “to be unable to locate something or someone.”
One passage from A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments illustrates that to lose can also mean “to fail to win”: “Am I in love?—yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game.”
What about loose? Loose is an adjective. How do authors use it? The following quote from The Velveteen Rabbit illustrates the meaning of loose as “not tightly attached, pulled, or held”: “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
In this quote from Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, loose means “lacking in precision or exactness”: “One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still.”
It’s easy to see the difference between the meanings in the quotes, but what about when it’s your turn to write? Because many people confuse loose with lose, there are many mnemonics to help you remember which is which. A grammar expert on the Grammarly Answers website shares this trick: If you lose the O of loose, you’ve spelled the opposite of find. It may help visual learners to picture lose and loose as ropes. Loose would be a longer rope than lose because of the extra O. So, loose is looser than lose.
A single letter distinguishes lose and loose, but you can tell them apart if you use a mnemonic. Practice makes perfect. If you write a few sentences with each of the words, before long you will be a pro. Why not start now? You’ve got nothing to lose!