Spelling Conundrums: Breath or Breathe? Lose or Loose?

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(image from Homophones, Weakly)

There’s not a writing teacher on the planet who doesn’t see students mix up the words breath and breathe or lose and loose.

I can sympathize here. The combination –eath is sometimes pronounced with a long e (think wreath, heath, beneath), so it makes sense that folks would hear a long e in the word breath. But breath rhymes with death.

Same goes for lose. Normally –ose indicates a long o, rather than oo. Think chose, close, dose, hose, nose, pose, rose, and those. Given their familiarity with these words, writers are naturally tempted to add an extra o to get the oo sound. Keep in mind, both lose and loose share the same vowel sound; the additional o simply changes the pronunciation of the final consonant from a z to an s. Face it — that’s tricky. Let’s be patient with those who haven’t had these differences recorded in the subconscious just yet. Don’t miss any of our great posts on writing, grammar, and language.  SUBSCRIBE NOW.

Still, students need to get this right. In time, it will become automatic, but until then, here’s a quick reference:

  • breath (breth): this is the noun version: catch your breath, take a deep breath, go out for a breath of air.
  • breathe (breethe): this is the verb: I can hardly breathe, just breathe, breathe in, breathe out.
  • lose (looz): the opposite of win; or to misplace something: win or lose, lose your shirt, lose his keys.
  • loose (loos): the opposite of tight: hang loose, loose as a goose, loose fitting clothes.

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Do you have more of spelling conundrums? Post them in the comments below!

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Merri Larsen
    Merri Larsen05-29-2012

    Once again, I find clear fun help for teaching writing. I’ll certainly use thisone in my summer writing workshops. Many thanks, Mr. Wasko!

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