Confused Words: Lose, Loose

How to Be Loose and Not Lose

by Owen Fourie

Sleazy grammar? No. It’s simply grammar.

Loose and lose are two words that seem to be more and more confused in today’s usage, especially on the Internet. Consider these statements:

  1. Most sites, even big ones don’t get this right and loose ranking …
  2. During most website migrations, through lack of knowledge or experience, many website owners end up loosing clients …

What do these statements mean?

  1. It seems that some website owners keep their Google page rankings tied, somehow, and then they untie them. Weird!
  2. Some website owners keep their clients tied up and then they decide to untie them. Dangerous practice!

Lose and losing would have been the correct words to use.

From these examples and many more, it seems that some might not even be aware of the word lose. If they are aware of it, they are confusing it with loose.

Such confusion ought not to exist, yet it does, and it is necessary to emphasize the difference between loose and lose.


Loose is pronounced with a soft s sound like the s sound in soap and sleep.

Commonly, we associate loose with something that was tied, but it has been or has become untied. It is loose. Think of shoelaces that became untied while you were walking. Your shoelaces were loose, and they needed to be tied again.

Loose can be used in various ways:

As an adjective:

  • This old desk has a loose drawer handle.
  • I can’t find my stapler, so I have a lot of loose papers here.
  • It is not exact; it is a loose translation from the French.
  • It wasn’t a formal gathering; there was a loose atmosphere.

As an adverb: The dogs are running loose in the street.

As a noun: Children don’t like to be restricted on vacation; they enjoy being on the loose.

As a verb: Ease off the tension in this rope; loosen it a bit.


Lose is pronounced with a z sound like the z sound in zoo and zebra. Although it has one o, it is pronounced as though it has a double o. Instead of rhyming with close, it rhymes with loose.

The distinction in sound between lose and loose is in the s sound that we have already noted. The same “oo” sound is, undoubtedly, the cause of the confusion between these two words.

Lose is a verb usually indicating the opposite of keeping or gaining something.

  • If you do not put your pen in a safe place, it is possible that you will lose it.
  • With so many of our best players injured, it seems that we could lose this game.
  • Watch out! He will lose his temper if you scrape his car with that stepladder.
  • Without a map, I think he might lose his way trying to get there.

A lost cause?

With so many errors in writing and so much confusion, isn’t it a losing battle to thump the drum for correct usage? Not at all. We cannot be loose about our usage of English. We must not lose sight of the standards of written and spoken English.

When you know the difference between loose and lose, you will be able to use loose appropriately and you will not lose out in any way.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with confused words or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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