Word Choice: Coarse vs. Course
  • 3-minute read
  • 9th November 2018

Word Choice: Coarse vs. Course

The words “coarse” and “course” sound exactly the same. They’re also similar written down. And as such, we understand why people get these terms confused. But these words also have very different meanings. So to make sure you use them correctly, check out our guide to what they mean.

Coarse (Rough or Harsh)

The word “coarse” is an adjective that means “rough” or “harsh.” We therefore use it to describe the texture or feeling of something:

The coarse fabric rubbed against his skin.

We also say that something is “coarse” when it is made of large, loose particles. If we say that soil is “coarse,” for instance, we mean that it is loosely packed and made up of larger clumps.

We also say that language or behavior is “coarse” when it is rude or impolite:

Her coarse language caused uproar at the funeral.

This is a bit old-fashioned, but you will still see it used like this sometimes.

Course as a Noun

The word “course” is usually a noun (i.e., a word that names or stands for something). This term can actually have a few different meanings, including:

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  • A process of development (e.g., The course of history…)
  • A route or path of movement (e.g., The blimp changed course)
  • An ongoing medical treatment (e.g., A course of painkillers…)
  • A set of classes (e.g., A college course)
  • Part of a meal (e.g., A three-course meal…)
  • An area over which something extends (e.g., Water course)

And while these definitions are quite varied, “course” is a noun in each case.

Course as a Verb

“Course” can also be a verb (i.e., an action word). In this case, it usually means “flow quickly.” For example, we may say a river “courses” through a valley.

A river coursing.
A river coursing.

It can also be used to mean “chase,” particularly to hunt something with dogs. These uses are rare compared to the noun definitions above, but they are still worth remembering.

Coarse or Course?

The trick here is to focus on “coarse,” which has one main meaning (i.e., “rough” or “harsh”). Importantly, this means “coarse” is always an adjective.

As such, if you need a word that modifies a noun, it will always be “coarse.” “Course,” meanwhile, can be either a noun or a verb. So if you need a word for a thing or an action, it will be “course.” Remember:

  • Coarse is an adjective meaning “harsh” or “rough.”
  • As a noun, course can be many things, including a process, a route, an ongoing medical treatment, a set of classes, or part of a meal.
  • As a verb, course means to flow quickly.

And if you’d like anyone to check the word usage in your writing, let us know.

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