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From loose +‎ -en.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈluːsn̩/
  • (file)


loosen (third-person singular simple present loosens, present participle loosening, simple past and past participle loosened)

  1. (transitive) To make loose.
    Synonyms: ease, relax, untighten
    to loosen a knot; to loosen one's grip / hold on something
    After the Thanksgiving meal, Bill loosened his belt.
    • 1626, Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum: or A Naturall Historie, London: William Lee, Century 5, p. 111,[1]
      [] after a yeares Rooting, then Shaking doth the Tree good, by Loosening of the Earth []
    • 1944 May and June, “The Why and the Wherefore: Locomotive Soot Blowers”, in Railway Magazine, page 194:
      In order to deal with deposits of soot on boiler-tubes while running, especially if poor coal is in use, locomotives are often now provided with blowers on the firebox back-plate which can be made to discharge a jet of high pressure steam towards the firebox tubeplates; this has the effect of loosening and blowing off the soot deposits.
    • 1960 December, “Talking of Trains: The railways and the Devon floods”, in Trains Illustrated, page 709:
      [...] and on the Saturday heavy seas pounded the W.R. on its exposed coastal stretch between Dawlish and Teignmouth, loosening the ballast and forcing trains to proceed with extreme caution.
    • 1992, Michael Ondaatje, chapter 10, in The English Patient[2], London: Picador, published 1993, page 265:
      His days at the villa had loosened his body and freed his tenseness []
  2. (intransitive) To become loose.
    I noticed that my seatbelt had gradually loosened during the journey.
    • 1630, Michael Drayton, “Noahs Floud”, in The Muses Elizium Lately Discouered[3], London: John Waterson, page 108:
      The subtile shower the earth hath softned so,
      And with the waues, the trees tost to and fro;
      That the rootes loosen, and the tops downe sway,
      So that whole Forrests quickly swimme away.
    • 1764, Oliver Goldsmith, An History of England, in a Series of Letters from a Nobleman to his Son[4], London: J. Newbery, Volume 2, Letter 19, p. 159:
      The sea scurvy is attended with an universal putrefaction, the teeth loosen, old wounds that had been healed again open []
    • 1940, Richard Wright, Native Son[5], London: Jonathan Cape, published 1970, Book 3, p. 387:
      Max caught Bigger’s shoulders in a tight grip; then his fingers loosened and he sank back to the cot []
  3. (transitive) To disengage (a device that restrains).
    Synonyms: undo, unfasten
    • 1717, Joseph Addison, transl., Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Fifteen Books, translated by the most eminent hands[6], London: Jacob Tonson, Book 3, p. 99:
      At Liberty th’ unfetter’d Captive stands,
      And flings the loosen’d Shackles from his Hands.
    • 1796, Matthew Gregory Lewis, chapter 10, in The Monk[7], volume 3, London: J. Bell, page 167:
      He easily comprehended, that the noise which he had heard was occasioned by his having loosened a chain which attached the image to its pedestal.
    • 1994, J. M. Coetzee, chapter 6, in The Master of Petersburg[8], New York: Viking, page 55:
      Her hair is drawn back under a heavy enamelled clasp. He loosens the clasp and lays it on the table.
  4. (intransitive) To become unfastened or undone.
  5. (transitive) To free from restraint; to set at liberty.
    Synonyms: liberate, release, set free
    • 1695, Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy, translated by John Dryden, De Arte Graphica[10], London: W. Rogers, page 185:
      This is an admirable Rule; a Painter ought to have it perpetually present in his Mind and Memory. [] it loosens his hands, and assists his understanding.
    • 1794, Ann Ward Radcliffe, chapter 5, in The Mysteries of Udolpho[11], volume 1, London: G.G. and J. Robinson, page 145:
      [] Valancourt, willing to take a more extensive view of the enchanting country, into which they were about to descend, than he could do from a carriage, loosened his dogs, and once more bounded with them along the banks of the road.
    • 1876, George Eliot, Daniel Deronda[12], Book 1, Chapter 8:
      I thought you had more sense than [] to suppose that because you have fallen into a very common trouble, such as most men have to go through, you are loosened from all bonds of duty []
    • 1905, Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth[13], Book 2, Chapter 11:
      The recollection loosened a throng of benumbed sensations—longings, regrets, imaginings, the throbbing brood of the only spring her heart had ever known.
  6. (transitive) To relieve (the bowels) from constipation; to promote defecation.
    • 1626, Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum: or A Naturall Historie, London: William Lee, Century 1, p. 14,[14]
      [] Feare looseneth the Belly; because the Heat retiring inwards towards the Heart, the Gutts and other Parts are relaxed;
    • 1646, Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica[15], London: E. Dod, Book 2, Chapter 3, p. 73:
      [] omitting the vehicle of water and honey, which is of a laxative power it selfe, the powder of some Loadstones in this dose doth rather constipate and binde, then purge and loosen the belly.
    • 1697, William Dampier, chapter 8, in A New Voyage Round the World[16], volume 1, London: James Knapton, page 222:
      When this Fruit [the guava] is eaten green it is binding, when ripe it is loosening.
    • 1974, Richard Adams, chapter 36, in Shardik[17], London: Oneworld, published 2014:
      Trying to control his breathing and the loosening of his bowels, he crouched still lower []
  7. (transitive, obsolete) To create a breach or rift between (two parties).
  8. (intransitive, obsolete) To sail away (from the shore).
    Synonym: put out


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