The Easy Explanation
“Coarse” is an adjective that can mean rough or crude or rude or offensive: The coarse cloth was uncomfortable against his skin. The comedian’s coarse humor was not to her liking.
“Course” is a noun that means a plan of study or a path: The course on fashion design filled up quickly. The runners followed the course to the finish line.
When to Use Coarse vs. Course
The word “coarse” is an adjective that can sometimes mean rough or crude (as a coarsely constructed shack) or rude or offensive (as in coarse manners). It can also mean made of big pieces or parts (as in the opposite of “fine”).
The word “course” is noun meaning a plan of study or series of classes (as in an English course). It can also be a noun meaning a path (as in a course of action). “Course” is sometimes a verb meaning to run or move swiftly through or over (as blood coursing through veins).
Examples of Coarse vs. Course
- A coarse painting was drawn on the cave wall. (meaning rough or crude)
- The blacksmith’s coarse language shocked Ma. (meaning rude or offensive)
- She dusted the tops of the candies with coarse sugar. (meaning big pieces)
- She took a course in welding at the local community college. (meaning a plan of study)
- The yacht’s pilot set a course for the open sea. (meaning a path)
How to Remember the Difference
“Coarse” is always an adjective, so if you replace the word in question with “rough” and it still mostly makes sentence and sounds correct, then the word should be “coarse.” (Remember this by thinking A Coarse Cloth—the “a” to remind of you of which spelling is correct and the “cloth” to remind you the word means “rough.”)
Theory Into Practice: Which Is Which?
Is the underlined word correct? See if you can tell.
- The catalog highlighted a course in winemaking.
Right: This means a series of lessons, so “course” is correct.
- Her coarse manners got her kicked out of the restaurant.
Right: This means rude, so “coarse” is correct.
- The blood coarsed through my veins with icy fright.
Wrong: This is a verb meaning move quickly and must therefore be “coursed.”