• 2-minute read
  • 9th August 2018

Word Choice: Coarse vs. Course

Homophones are words that sound alike. This is a normal part of language, but it can be tricky when homophones differ in spelling. The words ‘coarse’ and ‘course’, for example, are very easy to mix up if you’re not careful. Here, then, is our guide to avoiding errors when using these terms.

Coarse (Rough, Harsh or Rude)

We’ll start with the adjective ‘coarse’. This usually means ‘rough’ or ‘harsh’ in texture or structure:

The coarse material made the shirt uncomfortable.

Another use of this term is to mean ‘rude’ or ‘offensive’. For example:

I will not tolerate coarse language in my classroom.

The adverbial form (i.e. the version used when describing an action) of this word, meanwhile, is ‘coarsely’.

Course (A Route, Process or Part of a Meal)

As a noun, ‘course’ has several meanings. These include:

  • A route or direction of movement (e.g. To change course)
  • A process of development (e.g. In the course of time…)
  • An ongoing medical treatment (e.g. A course of penicillin…)
  • A set of classes (e.g. A course in creative writing…)
  • Part of a meal (e.g. The main course this evening…)
  • An area used for sporting events (e.g. A race course)

Furthermore, ‘course’ can also be a verb meaning ‘flow quickly’. For example:

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The river coursed through the valley.

This is much rarer than using ‘course’ as a noun, but it is still useful to know!

Coarse or Course?

This can be difficult, especially given how many meanings ‘course’ has! You may, therefore, want to focus on the word ‘coarse’ instead. If you can remember that this spelling is an adjective meaning ‘rough’ or ‘harsh’, you will know that ‘course’ is correct in any other situation.

In addition, while ‘coarse’ is always an adjective, ‘course’ is usually a noun and sometimes a verb. Thinking about the type of word you need can therefore help you pick the right one.

Coarse (adjective) = Rough, harsh or rude

Course (noun) = A route, a process or part of a meal

Course (verb) = To flow quickly

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