Loathe or Loath?

Loathe or loath? People often confuse these words. They have similar origins and both are related to negative feelings but they mean quite different things.

Usually, the reason for errors is not knowing whether to put in the ‘e’.

Loathe

‘Loathe’ is a verb. To loathe something is to detest or deplore it.

He loathed doing his work

In other words, he hated doing it.

One related noun is ‘loathing’, which means a feeling of hatred or disgust, as in:

She developed an intense loathing for the place.

Another noun is ‘loathsomeness’, which is the quality of being repulsive or offensive.

They were nauseated by the loathsomeness of the situation.

The adjective form is ‘loathsome’, meaning repugnant or repellent:

The loathsome creature emerged from the swamp.

Loath/Loth

‘Loath’ is an adjective. Its origins are similar to those of ‘loathe’ but it means ‘reluctant’ or ‘unwilling’, as in:

He was loath to do his work.

Another, much older spelling is ‘loth’. It is still in use but less common.

I was loth to say goodbye.

There is a noun form – ‘loathness’ – which, of course, means ‘unwillingness’, ‘reluctance’ or ‘disinclination’. It is used only rarely; most people prefer synonyms.

Her isolation stemmed from her loathness to join in the group’s social activities.

Loathly

Finally, just to confuse us even more, there’s the word ‘loathly’.

First, it’s a very old adjective, related to ‘loathe’ and hardly ever used now; it means ‘ugly’ or ‘hideous’ (‘loathsome’, in fact).

He read the old story of ‘Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady’.

Second, it’s a rarely used adverb related to ‘loath’. It means ‘unwillingly’, as in:

Loathly, she dragged herself to her lessons.

Pronunciation

‘Loathe’ rhymes with ‘clothe’.
‘Loath’ has a softer ‘th’ sound and rhymes with ‘growth’ and ‘both’.

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