Saturday, February 17, 2018

Coarse or Course?

When choosing between the homophones coarse or course, remembering one other word might help you associate the right meaning with the right letter.

Should it be coarse or course? The pair of words causes a lot of confusion because they’re homophones: words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Each word has several meanings, but they are different parts of speech, and that’s where a simple memory trick, or mnemonic, might come in handy.


Coarse — with an A — can have several meanings.

It can refer to something with large particles or a thick texture. Thick sand can be coarse. The hair in a horse’s mane can be described as coarse. The opposite of this meaning of coarse would be fine or thin.

It can refer to a person’s manners if they lack tact or are rude or abrasive in personality.

Along the same lines, coarse language is language that could be described as indecent or vulgar.

The final meaning, probably the type you’d see least often, is as an adjective meaning “of low quality.”


The other choice, course — with a U — also has multiple meanings.

My dad loves sailing, and sailors like to stay on the right course, which means they want to follow the right path or direction to get to their destination. Likewise, it can describe the path something takes.

It can refer to a progression, as in “the course of human events” or “staying the course.”

It can describe a period of time, as in something that happens over “the course of a week.” 

Meals are served in “courses.” A five-course meal may leave you feeling pretty heavy by the time it’s over.

The memory trick

So now that you’ve seen the various meanings, what’s the easiest way to remember them?

You may have noticed something about each word’s set of definitions. The first group of definitions, for coarse, have something interesting in common: they all define a word that comes in adjective form, meaning that it’s a word that modifies a noun.

The second group, however, defines words that are nouns.

So with that in mind, one easy way to remember which word to use would be to consider whether the word is modifying something or is itself the “something.” If it’s a modifier, it’s an adjective, which begins with an A, so you should use the version with an A in the spelling: coarse.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest of memory aids that are the easiest to manage.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.