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I'm having difficulty in understanding the differences in usage (and understanding which one is used from pronunciation/context) between "loathe" and "loath" - could anyone help clarify it ?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

'Loathe' is a verb used to indicate repugnance:

I loathe Brussels sprouts.

'Loath' is an adjective suggesting unwillingness or reluctance:

I am loath to eat my Brussels sprouts.

As for pronunciation, they both rhyme with 'loan' as far as the vowel sound is concerned, but 'loathe' ends with a 'th' sound as in 'the', whereas 'loath' has a 'th' as in 'thing'. This is based on my experience as an Australian English speaker who rarely says either of these words!

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+1 -- I also note that "loathe" often draws out the vowel a bit i.e. "loooooooowthe". – Billy ONeal Apr 7 '11 at 7:38
Great answer !!! – TCSGrad Apr 7 '11 at 15:17
Also valid in American English. – Mechanical snail Oct 12 '11 at 0:32

There are several pairs of words in English where the verb has a voiced 'th' (/ð/) and the other form has it unvoiced (/θ/).

Usually there is a difference in spelling ("loath"/"loathe"; "wreath"/"wreathe"), but sometimes not ("mouth"/"mouth"). Sometimes the vowel sound changes as well ("breath"/"breathe"; "bath"/"bathe").

In most cases the 'non-verb' is a noun, but in this case "loath" is an adjective. However it is a slightly odd one, in that you can say "I'm nothing loath to ... ": I can't think of any other words that will go in this construction.

"Loath" is also rather rare in modern English.

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You mean /θ/, not /ɵ/. /ɵ/ is a vowel. – Mechanical snail Oct 12 '11 at 0:31
Oops: thanks. Corrected. – Colin Fine Oct 12 '11 at 9:29

Loathe is used to express hatred/dislike/disgust whereas loath is used to express unwillingness/reluctant attitude.

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There is nothing wrong with this answer. Any particular reason why this was downvoted? – Uticensis Apr 7 '11 at 15:13
While not as detailed as the other answer, this is still a useful answer in a nutshell - I've upvoted you :) – TCSGrad Apr 7 '11 at 15:16
My problem with this answer is that it makes the two sound like they're the same except for the slightly different meaning. They're not; "loath" is not a verb and "loathe" is not an adjective, so you couldn't just replace one with the other. (Not my downvote, but if it were, that'd be why.) – cHao May 31 '12 at 19:50

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