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Common Spelling Mistakes: Lose vs. Loose

Do you know the difference between the words “lose” and “loose”? Do you wonder each time you write one of these words whether you’re spelling it right? Today I will not only give you examples of how to use “lose” and “loose,” but I will also give you a trick to remember forever which spelling is correct.

This word is a VERB. Some of its most common meanings are to come to be without something, to fail to keep track of something, to have someone die, or to fail to win.

Here is a list of some things you can lose: keys; money; a job; 25 pounds; loved ones; a game of pool, your virginity, or your mind.

Before you get lost in thought about all the things you might lose, let’s move on to our next word.

Loose: This word is usually used as an ADJECTIVE. It can mean free, unfettered, unbound, or lacking in restraint; a few of its antonyms (opposites) are firm, bound and tight. It can also be used as a VERB meaning to let go of, let shoot or fly, or set free.

Some things that can be or get loose are: Hair, knots, zoo animals, a sexually promiscuous person, a structure, an interpretation, vegetables in the grocery store, and teeth.

There are many idioms that use the word “loose” such as “let loose,” “break loose,” “cut loose,” “hang loose,” “turn loose,” and “on the loose.” And are any of you “foot loose and fancy free”?

I hope the difference between “lose” and “loose” is clear. Now, how will you remember which is which?

It’s easy. Whenever you find yourself loosely throwing a double letter “o” into the word loose, ask yourself, “Should I *lose* the “o”?” If you want a verb that means “to be without something,” then be without the extra “o”! If you want to say you “failed to win,” have the loser (not the looser) pay up the winner with the extra “o.” And if you think you might lose track of something, lose track of the second “o.”

If on the other hand, if you want your word to mean free, unbound, or anything loosely in that category, be free with your “o”’s! Dare I say, “Use them or lose them?”

If you have questions about this or any other spelling/grammatical issue, ask The Essay Expert.


  1. Sep 15, 2009 at 12:03 am

    A very informative piece. I recall learning the difference in school but then…….I don’t know when I forgot the difference. Thanks for reminding and ensuring that good English is used on the net. Please also add practice and practise/advice and advise; its and it’s to the list. Thanks!

    • Sep 15, 2009 at 12:16 am

      Thank you Laya! I will be happy to write future articles on advise/advice and on its/it’s. On the spelling of practice/practise, in the United States “practice” is the preferred spelling, period. In other parts of the world (UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, South Africa), many people distinguish between the verb “practise” and the noun “practice.” Watch for future articles on other differences between spellings and even punctuation in British English vs. English in the States!

  2. Sep 15, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful post. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate those who CAN spell when they help others avoid the mistakes that can really hurt their business and credibility when those who notice, DO notice.

    I am a proofreader and editor by trade and it is sad how few really BIG businesses and BIG marketers, writers, etc. seem to notice or even care about this most important part of their presentations!

    My biggest one was, as mentioned in comment above:

    its and it’s

    this is also the most common spelling mistake I see in print ads, email ads, web site copy, books and reports.

    • Sep 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm

      Its/it’s is my most requested topic for next week, so stay tuned!

  3. Sep 16, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Thank you Mark. Lead/led is a big one on my list as well. It is an extremely common mistake on resumes, and since I am a resume writer I see it often. I will be writing an article in the next couple of weeks highlighting this distinction!

  4. Sep 17, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Betsy, I hope many readers will share my tips with their children. Maybe no one will have to write articles like this one 20 years from now. I/me is definitely on my list of topics to cover!

  5. Rosia White
    May 07, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Very helpful

  6. garry
    Aug 29, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    I always remember its/it’s by imagining the ‘s means there is another word there. Meaning if I need to say it is , it was, etc. Then I need the ‘s. Another very common error I see is to/too/two. I’ve seen alot of construction workers’ shirts or cards say “no job to big or to small” . I consider TO to be used as a term of possession . You give something TO someone, however the word TOO could be used meaning possession also, “I gave him one TOO”, but personally I would use also rather than too, but i think either one would be correct. I hope this helps someone. Another extremely common error I see is there/their/they’re. THEIR drinks are over THERE but THEY’RE still looking for them.


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