The Easy Explanation
“Lose” means to fail to win or to misplace: The team didn’t want to lose the big game tonight. If you call in sick, you’ll lose a day of pay.
“Loose” means not tight: The loose pants needed a belt to stay on.
When to Use Lose vs. Loose
The word “lose” is pronounced “looz.” It’s a verb with a few different meanings. It often means fail to win (as in to lose a game). Sometimes it means to misplace or be unable to find (as in to lose a diamond earring). “Lose” is also used to mean to fail to keep or hold (as in to lose your sanity).
Brazil deserves to lose this game after all of the mistakes the team has made! (meaning fail to win)
The star forward should have known he would lose that lucky penny in the turf. (meaning to be unable to find)
And the goalkeeper should lose his attitude. (meaning fail to keep)
The word “loose” is pronounced “loos” (rhymes with “moose”) and is an adjective that means not tight or not confined (as in a loose shirt).
Examples of Lose vs. Loose
- Even with a star quarterback and two burly fullbacks, the football team still managed to lose. (meaning not win)
- He’ll lose his room key if he doesn’t put it in his pocket. (meaning to be unable to find)
- Don’t lose your place in line by leaving for the bathroom. (meaning to fail to keep)
- Her loose hair billowed in the wind. (meaning not confined)
- The loose boot was easy to pull off. (meaning not tight)
How to Remember the Difference
When people make a mistake here, it usually is replacing “loose” with “lose” (as in saying “a lose tooth” instead of the correct “a loose tooth”). Since the word “lose” has so many meanings, focus on “loose” instead. Try replacing the word in question with “not tight.” If it mostly makes sense, then “loose” is the correct choice. (To help you remember which word connects with that definition, try thinking, “Those two o’s in ‘loose’ are not tight together.”)
The wind whipped and tossed the loose sail.
The wind whipped and tossed the [NOT TIGHT] sail. (Mostly makes sense, so “loose” is correct.)
Don’t lose your heart to the first guy who comes around.
Don’t [NOT TIGHT] your heart to the first guy who comes around. (Doesn’t make sense, so “lose” is the correct word.)
Theory Into Practice: Which Is Which?
Is the underlined word correct? See if you can tell.
- A wise person once said that you can’t lose what you never had.
Right: It means fail to keep, so “lose” is correct.
- The lose wheel flew off the race car and injured a fan.
Wrong: The word should be “loose,” as in not tight.
- Molly wiggled her loose tooth and thought happily of the tooth fairy.
Right: The meaning is “loose,” as in not tight, so it’s correct.