break loose, to free oneself; escape: The convicts broke loose.
    cast loose,
    1. to loosen or unfasten, as a ship from a mooring.
    2. to send forth; set adrift or free: He was cast loose at an early age to make his own way in the world.
    cut loose,
    1. to release from domination or control.
    2. to become free, independent, etc.
    3. to revel without restraint: After the rodeo they headed into town to cut loose.
    hang/stay loose, Slang. to remain relaxed and unperturbed.
    let loose,
    1. to free or become free.
    2. to yield; give way: The guardrail let loose and we very nearly plunged over the edge.
    on the loose,
    1. free; unconfined, as, especially, an escaped convict or circus animal.
    2. behaving in an unrestrained or dissolute way: a bachelor on the loose.
    turn loose, to release or free, as from confinement: The teacher turned the children loose after the class.

Origin of loose

1175–1225; (adj.) Middle English los, loos < Old Norse lauss loose, free, empty; cognate with Old English lēas (see -less), Dutch, German los loose, free; (v.) Middle English leowsen, lousen, derivative of the adj.
Related formsloose·ly, adverbloose·ness, nouno·ver·loose, adjectiveo·ver·loose·ly, adverbo·ver·loose·ness, noun
Can be confusedloose loosen lose loss

Synonyms for loose

Antonyms for loose

1. bound. 10. chaste. 25. tighten. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for break loose



free or released from confinement or restraint
not close, compact, or tight in structure or arrangement
not fitted or fitting closelyloose clothing is cooler
not bundled, packaged, fastened, or put in a containerloose nails
inexact; imprecisea loose translation
(of funds, cash, etc) not allocated or locked away; readily available
  1. (esp of women) promiscuous or easy
  2. (of attitudes, ways of life, etc) immoral or dissolute
lacking a sense of responsibility or proprietyloose talk
  1. (of the bowels) emptying easily, esp excessively; lax
  2. (of a cough) accompanied by phlegm, mucus, etc
(of a dye or dyed article) fading as a result of washing; not fast
informal, mainly US and Canadian very relaxed; easy


the loose rugby the part of play when the forwards close round the ball in a ruck or loose scrumSee scrum
on the loose
  1. free from confinement or restraint
  2. informalon a spree


  1. in a loose manner; loosely
  2. (in combination)loose-fitting
hang loose informal, mainly US to behave in a relaxed, easy fashion


(tr) to set free or release, as from confinement, restraint, or obligation
(tr) to unfasten or untie
to make or become less strict, tight, firmly attached, compact, etc
(when intr, often foll by off) to let fly (a bullet, arrow, or other missile)
Derived Formsloosely, adverblooseness, noun

Word Origin for loose

C13 (in the sense: not bound): from Old Norse lauss free; related to Old English lēas free from, -less
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for break loose



early 13c., "not securely fixed;" c.1300, "unbound," from Old Norse lauss "loose, free, vacant, dissolute," cognate with Old English leas "devoid of, false, feigned, incorrect," from Proto-Germanic *lausaz (cf. Danish løs "loose, untied," Swedish lös "loose, movable, detached," Middle Dutch, German los "loose, free," Gothic laus "empty, vain"), from PIE *leu- "to loosen, divide, cut apart" (see lose). Meaning "not clinging, slack" is mid-15c. Meaning "not bundled" is late 15c. Sense of "unchaste, immoral" is recorded from late 15c. Meaning "at liberty, free from obligation" is 1550s. Sense of "rambling, disconnected" is from 1680s. Figurative sense of loose cannon was in use by 1896, probably from celebrated image in a popular story by Hugo:

You can reason with a bull dog, astonish a bull, fascinate a boa, frighten a tiger, soften a lion; no resource with such a monster as a loose cannon. You cannot kill it, it is dead; and at the same time it lives. It lives with a sinister life which comes from the infinite. It is moved by the ship, which is moved by the sea, which is moved by the wind. This exterminator is a plaything. [Victor Hugo, "Ninety Three"]

Loose end in reference to something unfinished, undecided, unguarded is from 1540s; to be at loose ends is from 1807. Phrase on the loose "free, unrestrained" is from 1749 (upon the loose).



early 13c, "to set free," from loose (adj.). Meaning "to undo, untie, unfasten" is 14c. Related: Loosed; loosing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with break loose

break loose

Escape from restraint, as in The boat broke loose from its moorings, or He finally broke loose from the school of abstract expressionism. This expression also appears in all hell breaks loose, which indicates a state of fury or chaos, as in When Dad finds out you broke his watch, all hell will break loose, or When the children saw the dead pigeon in the hall, all hell broke loose. [Early 1400s]


In addition to the idioms beginning with loose

  • loose cannon
  • loose ends

also see:

  • at loose ends
  • break loose
  • cast loose
  • cut loose
  • footloose and fancy-free
  • hang loose
  • have a screw loose
  • on the loose
  • play fast and loose
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.