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ASK A TEACHER - Loose and Lose

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This week's question comes from Vukeni of South Sudan. Vukeni writes:

Question:

What is the difference between "loose" and "lose"? This morning, I heard some people debating about it.

Answer:

Dear Vukeni,

It makes sense that people were debating the difference between "loose" and "lose."

The two words are commonly mistaken, even by native English speakers! It is probably because the words are close in spelling and pronunciation.

In speaking, both words use the vowel sound /u/. But "lose" ends in the /z/ sound, while "loose" ends in the /s/ sound. In writing, "loose" has only one more -o than "lose."

They may look and sound alike, but the two words are unrelated.

Lose /luz/

Let's start with "lose," which is a verb. "Lose" has many meanings. Today, I will tell you about three.

It can mean "to fail to win," such as a game or competition:

We lost the tennis game last night. Better luck next week.

Notice that the past form is "lost," not "losed." That is because "lose' is an irregular verb.

"Lose" can also mean "to misplace (something)" or to be unable to find it. People can lose many kinds of things. Here's an example:

Oh no! The airport lost my bags. Now I have nothing to wear to the wedding.

"Lose" can also mean "to have less of something as time passes" as in this:

Grandma has been losing her eyesight for a few years. These days, I usually help her walk around.

A person can also lose sleep, weight or hair, or something nonphysical, such as memory, interest or contact.

Loose /lus/

Now, let's talk about the word "loose."

"Loose" is an adjective that means "not tightly attached or held in place." Many things can be loose, like clothing:

Excuse me, these shoes are a little loose. Do you have a smaller size?

Lots of other things can be loose, such as nails when they are not securely attached, teeth when they are ready to come out or wires when they are not tightly connected.

Loosen /lus n/

Though "loose" is an adjective, it can take verb form. The verb is "loosen." To loosen means "to make loose," as in this:

When he left the meeting, he quickly loosened his tie.

In the example, notice that the past form ends in -ed. "Loosen" is a regular verb.

And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com.

Words in This Story

spelling - n. the act of forming words from letters

pronunciation - n. the way in which a word is said

irregular - adj. not following the normal patterns by which word forms are usually created

interest - n. a feeling of wanting to learn more about something or to be involved in something

tightly - adv. in a way that is fastened, attached, or held in a position that is not easy to move

nail - n. a long, thin piece of metal that is sharp at one end and flat at the other end and used mainly to attach things to wood

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