Verb Mistakes #8: Lose

By Maeve Maddox

A common writing error is the use of loose in a context that calls for the verb lose.

As a verb, loose means, “to set free; to release from restraint.” For example, “The Kaffirs loosed the dogs before seeing the elephants.” 

Lose, on the other hand, means “to become deprived of,” “to miss from one’s possession.” For example, “They lose their keys at least once every day.”

I’m never surprised to find the loose/lose error in such contexts as fan fiction, social media, or readers’ comments on news sites. I am, however, disappointed when I find it in texts written by journalists, medical professionals, and others who boast university credentials or professional expertise.

Most of the errors I found online occurred with the idioms “to lose one’s way” and “to lose sight of, but it also appears in free constructions:

INCORRECT: Everyone would like to be happy. Sometimes we loose our way or forget how happiness feels.—Therapist advertising in Psychology Today directory, graduate of Rutgers University.
CORRECT : Everyone would like to be happy. Sometimes we lose our way or forget how happiness feels.

INCORRECT: And if we do loose our way, it is easy to ask ourselves, “Where are we going, what is our purpose?”—Graduate student essay, University of Michigan.
CORRECT : And if we do lose our way, it is easy to ask ourselves, “Where are we going, what is our purpose?”

INCORRECT: When this happened [blockage of blood vessels] the neutrophils seemed to loose their way.—Science Daily, report on study done at University of London.
CORRECT : When this happened [blockage of blood vessels] the neutrophils seemed to lose their way.

INCORRECT: Take responsibility for your learning, don’t loose sight of what you want to learn, resolve or get out of therapy, and don’t talk about material you know is irrelevant.—Clinical psychologist offering his services.
CORRECT : Take responsibility for your learning, don’t lose sight of what you want to learn, resolve or get out of therapy, and don’t talk about material you know is irrelevant.

INCORRECT: It’s easy to get caught up in project details and loose sight of the bigger picture.—Vanderbilt University.
CORRECT : It’s easy to get caught up in project details and lose sight of the bigger picture.

INCORRECT: When you loose your concentration, start the exercise again from the beginning.—Meditation Workshop.
CORRECT : When you lose your concentration, start the exercise again from the beginning.

INCORRECT: He said the audit showed Lincoln’s basic business had been loosing money for two years…—The Washington Post.
CORRECT :  He said the audit showed Lincoln’s basic business had been losing money for two years

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9 Responses to “Verb Mistakes #8: Lose”

  • Andreas

    Whatever book you quoted in paragraph 2 of this post is a little outdated I guess. Here in South Africa it is considered hate speech to use the word “kaffir” and punishable by law.

    If memory serves right, “kaffir” originates from the Arabic word qafir – meaning infidel. Way back when air was still clean and most of the Middle East were British colonies, the Arabs called the British qafirs.

    When them Brits made SA a colony, they in turn called the local blacks the dreaded K-word as their religion was animist and not Christian.

    Please make sure that I did not suck too much out of my thumb if you want to make a post of this. As I said – if memory … what was I saying again?

  • Connie

    Andreas, I’m sure that Mauve’s use of the term is not worth the loosing of the dogs, but it may be time to look at the elephant in the room – now that you’ve exposed it. 😉

    I think that part of the problem with lose/loose can be attributed to chose/choose, and vice versa.

  • venqax

    Well, thank the gods that we aren’t all in South Africa. Here in the USA–land of freedom of speech– it is still not a crime to say anything you want to…Yet. Yet.

    @Connie: I think you are right that the false analogy to chose/choose contributes to this. We see it all the time: January/FebYuary, Herbert/sherbert, cumbersome/cumberbun, mardi gras/coup de gras, bicycle/icycle, etc.

  • Maeve

    Andreas,
    My bad! The quotation is from Sportascrapiana: Facts in Athletics, with hitherto unpublished anecdotes of the nineteenth century, from George IV to the Sweep, Edited by C. A. Wheeler, Second Edition, London, 1868.

    Do you think the example is too utterly offensive to remain in the post?

    Btw, the first time I encountered the word “kaffir” was while I was still teaching high school English, several years ago—in a student essay.

  • thebluebird11

    @Andreas: What does that mean, “suck too much out of my thumb”? That is an expression I’ve never heard, can you clarify?

    @Maeve/Connie/venqax: There are a couple of issues here. The first one is how the words LOOK, the second one is how the words SOUND.

    To me there should be no analogy drawn between the pairs lose/loose and chose/choose; although the words LOOK the same (lose/chose; loose/choose) they are not PRONOUNCED the same, and should not be compared. If these errors were made by ESL speakers, I could understand the confusion, but a person whose first language is English should not even think these are analogous and should not make these mistakes.
    Maeve didn’t go into it in the post, but for the sake of any ESL person coming across this, LOSE (with one O) and CHOOSE (with 2 O’s) are pronounced the same (LOOZ and CHOOZ). LOOSE still has the same OO sound but the S is pronounced like an S (LOOS, rhymes with MOOSE). CHOSE is pronounced as if the S were a Z (CHOHZ is about the best I can make it). LOSE is not pronounced “LOHZ,” and there is no “CHOOS” (in terms of being pronounced with the S sound to rhyme with MOOSE).

    I am not the grammar maven, but bear with me: The verbs LOSE (LOOZ) and CHOOSE (CHOOZ) are present tense (past tenses LOST, CHOSE). CHOSE and CHOOSE are grammatically related; LOSE and LOOSE are not. So bottom line is that they need to be memorized like many other things in English that don’t make sense; people need to pay attention in 2nd grade and also when running spellcheck, since this is something a spellchecker may very well miss.

  • Connie

    @ thebluebird11 – I think you actually made my point. Two Os are not the only way spell the “oo” sound, but many people are lazy; too lazy to remember what they learned in the 2nd grade, I’m afraid. I wasn’t using ( the chose/choose as an analogy, except that I so often see each of them misspelled (mistaken for each other) just as I do with lose/loose. Yet, I can see how some may be confused when looking at all four of the words together. Now, the constant use of apostrophes before the “s” on a plural word is the one that really puzzles me.

  • Connie

    @ thebluebird11 – I think you actually made my point. Two Os are not the only way spell the “oo” sound, but many people are lazy; too lazy to remember what they learned in the 2nd grade, I’m afraid. I wasn’t using the chose/choose as an analogy, except that I so often see each of them misspelled (mistaken for each other) just as I do with lose/loose. Yet, I can see how some may be confused when looking at all four of the words together. Now, the constant use of apostrophes before the “s” on a plural word is the one that really puzzles me. 🙂

  • Roberta B.

    Andreas – Thanks for the background of that term and how it evolved from a pejorative for one group to that of another. I have some beautiful amaryllis-like flowers in my atrium that 25 years ago were called Kaffir lilies. I think that’s because they’re native to SAfrica. One source says the term is considered offensive in SAfrica, but doesn’t say anything about it being offensive anywhere else. It also referred to them as Natal lilies, but I’ve never referred to them that way.

    Since they’re so beautiful I get asked a lot what they are. I think that most of the nurseries have removed the “offensive” term. Also, I’m not typically a PC kind of person, but went along calling them by their technical name “clivia” and haven’t used their common name for a some time. I know someone who still uses the original name, and even though the common name is more memorable, I’d be more comfortable if this person went technical. However, I do know it’s hard enough (or not considered that important) for some to remember the difference between clivia, cyclamen, coreopsis, or anything else in the garden that starts with a “C.” As for my beautiful flowers, they usually bloom in March, but because of the drought in CA, we got one small bloom this year (right now in July) – looks like one survivor’s last chance of the season. We’re all praying for rain!

  • thebluebird11

    @Roberta: Off topic, yes, about the PC issue and the general problem of getting words out of people’s speech, transitioning to something less inflammatory or even just more correct. Two examples: (1) Before it was Boston Market, the chain was called Boston Chicken. It took me forever to change to the new name, and I think I only accomplished it because I didn’t go there for some years, and when I went back again after that long hiatus, I was able to “accept” the “new” name. (2) In school back in like 1980, we learned of an organism called Campylobacter pylori, associated with pathologic findings like stomach ulcers. Eventually with further study, scientists reclassified the organism and changed its name to Helicobacter pylori. It took a long time for medical professionals to get on board and start calling it H pylori. Now the younger medical folks would just give a blank stare if you mentioned Campylobacter. Many other similar examples, including new nomenclature for what used to be Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia…if it is pervasive enough, eventually people will make the switch but old habits die hard (sorry for the cliché… See today’s DWT post LOL). Still, the effort needs to be made. I never heard the word Kaffir before, and now that I have, and was made aware of the offensive connotation, I would not use it… why offend people, especially when alternatives exist.

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