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Loss, Lose, Lost, Loose: Some Confusing Words In English — Ganiu Bamgbose, PhD




English, Sound-Letter Distinction

Some words are usually confused by English users, owing to their similarities in form. Such confusions, which often lead to misuses, result in the loss of meaning and an unintended breakdown in communications.

Consequentially, this piece hopes to shed light on such erroneous usages, particularly as obtained in the expressions of a sizeable number of Nigerians.

To begin with, the words, loss, lose, lost and loose are often used arbitrarily and incorrectly so. For clarity’s sake, ‘loss’ is a naming word, and it means when one no longer has something, or one has less of it. It can either be used as a singular or a plural noun, as succinctly portrayed in the accompanying sentence structures:
1. He suffered a gradual loss of memory.
2. Many parents feel a sense of loss when their children leave home.
3. There will be substantial job losses if the company closes down.


It is evident from the above sentences that the word, ‘loss’, is a noun, as it can be replaced with the indefinite pronoun, ‘something’; that is, ‘someone suffered something’, ‘many parents feel a sense of something’, and ‘there will be a substantial level of something’.


The second word, lose, is a verb, and it means to no longer have something because you do not know where it is, or because it has been taken away from you. It also means to fail to succeed in a game, competition and whatnot. Again, it is essential to disclose that the word is pronounced as /lu:z/. Some of its uses are illustrated below:
4. At least, 600 members of staff will lose their jobs if the firm closes.
5. He loses his keys always.
6. Arsenal may lose to Liverpool this season.

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Moving on, ‘lost’ is the past tense and past participle of lose, and it can be deployed in the following ways:
7. She lost her wristwatch.
8. He has lost his ticket.
9. They had not lost an election in fifteen years.

Last in this category of words is ‘loose’, which has the highest number of functions and possible usages. Put in proper perspective, the word functions as an adjective, a verb and a noun with several but similar meanings. Moreover, the general reader should note that loose is pronounced with the unvoiced consonant /s/ — and not the voiced consonant /z/ — thus: /lu:s/. As an adjective, it means not firmly fixed in place, not tight, not exact, and immoral. Example sentences for each of these adjectival functions are given below:
10. There were some loose wires hanging out of the wall (not firmly fixed).
11. Wear comfortable loose clothing to your exercise class (not tight).
12. This is a fairly loose adaptation of the novel (not exact).
13. She is such a loose woman (sexual immorality).


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On top of that, there is a sense in which the word, loose, can be deployed as a noun, and this is when a person is said to be on the loose: to freely move around and likely harm people. As a verb, the word, loose, indicates when people express themselves freely, especially in an uncontrolled manner:
14. The minister loosed a tirade against the leader of the opposition.
Finally, the word, loose, is used in a number of idiomatic expressions which are stated hereunder:
15. Cut loose: to behave in an uncontrolled, wild way.
16 Play fast and loose with somebody: to treat something or someone without enough care.
17. All hell breaks loose: a situation suddenly becomes uncontrollable and noisy.

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In conclusion, it is incontrovertible that the appropriate use of words is a precondition for clarity and exactness in speech and writing. One must, therefore, strive to tell confusing words apart.
© 2020 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr GAB)

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