• 2-minute read
  • 26th December 2017

Word Choice: Coarse vs. Course

Since the words ‘oar’ and ‘our’ are pronounced differently, you’d think the same would be true for ‘coarse’ and ‘course’. But they’re not. ‘Coarse’ and ‘course’ sound identical. Which is silly, really.

Or, as we’re on the subject of homophones, ‘Scilly, really.’
(Image: Burmesedays/wikimedia)

It is especially silly given that these words have very different uses, so you won’t want to mix them up in your written work. To help prevent this, check out our guide to using ‘coarse’ and ‘course’ correctly.

Coarse (Rough or Harsh)

The adjective ‘coarse’ typically means ‘rough’ or ‘not fine grained’:

The bark of the oak tree is coarse to the touch.

This flour is quite coarse, so it absorbs liquid more slowly.

A secondary meaning of ‘coarse’ is ‘harsh’ or ‘vulgar’, particularly when used in relation to speech.

Course (Study, Development and Directions)

The word ‘course’ has many meanings, mostly as a noun. These include:

  • A set of classes (e.g. I’m studying an engineering course.)
  • A process of development (e.g. Things will improve in the course of time.)
  • The direction a vehicle is moving in (e.g. The ship set course for Hawaii.)
  • A medical treatment (e.g. The doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics.)
  • Part of a meal (e.g. We had lasagne for our main course.)
  • An area of land used for sport (e.g. I spent the afternoon on the golf course.)

As a verb, meanwhile, ‘course’ means ‘flow quickly or in large volumes. For instance:

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Tears coursed down her cheeks when she heard the news.

This last usage is quite rare, though, so usually ‘course’ is a noun.

Coarse or Course?

Since ‘coarse’ has fewer meanings than ‘course’, it should be easy to remember that this word means ‘rough’. In other situations, the correct term will almost always be ‘course’.

The fact that ‘coarse’ is always an adjective, while ‘course’ is usually a noun, can also help. As such, if you need a word that describes the quality of something, it will always be ‘coarse’. Remember:

Coarse (adjective) = Rough or harsh

Course (noun) = A set of classes or a direction (among other things)

Course (verb) = Flow quickly

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