February 19, 2009

Weekly Language Usage Tips: empathic or empathetic, loose or lose

Posted in empathic or empathetic, lose or loose at 5:32 pm by dlseltzer


I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. -Steven Wright, comedian (b. 1955)

Tip 1: Empathic or empathetic

While I never rely on Wikipedia as a serious reference (and don’t recommend that you do), I did like its definition of empathy:

Empathy is the ‘capacity’ to share and understand another’s ‘state of mind’ or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to ”put oneself into another’s shoes,” or in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself.

In Medicine, empathy is increasingly viewed as integral to effective patient-provider interactions. But when you are feeling empathy for another, are you being empathic of empathetic?

The answer is either. Empathic and empathetic are synonyms and are both acceptable. Some make small and sometimes strange (think Star Trek) distinctions between the two, but there is really no difference. Some support empathetic since it follows the familiar form of sympathy/sympathetic and apathy/apathetic. Empathic seems to be used more commonly in Medicine, but both are correct. I would, however, choose one and stick with it. Using both empathic and empathetic in the same document could lead to confusion on the part of the reader and would make your writing less elegant.

Tip 2: Lose or loose

This particular issue is very painful to me because I see the words misused so often. Please don’t use loose when you really mean lose.

Lose is a verb and is pronounced with a z sound. It means misplace, come to be without, or fail to win.

Be careful not to lose your temper, no matter how annoying the reviewer’s comments are.
Subjects lose significant weight when adhering to the study protocol.
I don’t want to be watching when you lose the race.

Loose is an adjective and is pronounced with an s sound. It means ill-fitting/baggy, unrestrained, or having few boundaries.

What size is that dress? It’s really loose on you.
Close the fence before the dogs get loose.
She has tight jeans and loose morals.

These words are mixed up all of the time. I think it stems from the oo sound in lose. Out of curiosity, I googled lose or loose and came across many examples where loose is used when the correct word is lose.

Loose weight fast!
Easily loose weight!
Loose yourself in the lyrics!
Born to loose!

It’s enough to make you loose lose your mind!



  1. Dan said,

    Empathetic was, until fairly recently (the 1980’s I believe) incorrect, and empathic was the only correct form of the word. Since then, due to improper usage, much like irregardless, it’s become somewhat acceptable. I still prefer empathic, but technically either is correct.

    • Mattia Berger said,

      “Improper”? That’s taking a very prescriptive stance…

  2. Anonymous said,

    Much earlier than the 1980’s….

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