For example, could you help me "loosen" or "unscrew" this lid/cap? Which one is correct and more common?

  • It's a good Q.+1.
    – user18856
    Jun 18, 2015 at 14:24
  • What does your dictionary say? The dictionary should answer your question.
    – rogermue
    Jun 18, 2015 at 19:08

5 Answers 5


Think of it this way…

If the lid takes 3 turns to remove, then only the first 'grab' will loosen it, but after that it still needs unscrewing the other 2.9 turns

To actually ask someone, either version would probably do - they'd be aware that you were asking because you were having difficulty with that first part, not that you couldn't be bothered with the other 2.9 turns ;-)

"Could you open this for me?" would also work just fine, by the same assumption.

  • 3
    +1 "Could you open this for me?" or "Could you help me open this?" are both fine ways to ask.
    – Phil
    Jun 18, 2015 at 17:25
  • 1
    Or ... "please use your manly strength to do what my womanly arms can not".
    – Catija
    Jun 18, 2015 at 18:56
  • 1
    … or… "now I've pretty much done the job, but my fingers hurt, please feel free to make yourself look vastly superior by doing the last half ounce of the task I've already nearly done for you" (but not if you want to maintain your relationship ;) Jun 18, 2015 at 19:06
  • 1
    … or at any time the jar's contents are red cabbage or beetroot... Jun 18, 2015 at 19:07

Assuming you mean in normal conversation. They mean pretty much the same thing.

If a asked to loosen a cap for someone I would turn the cap till is was almost off, then hand back the bottle.

If asked to unscrew a cap, I would fully remove the cap, handing them back the bottle and the cap in two separate pieces.

That said, they are really quite interchangeable, and a person may do either one if asked either way. It just depends on the person.

If you mean in some kind of technical document, or instructions it would be normal to see something like

  • "Loosen the cap until product is accessible, but do not remove the cap completely."

  • "Unscrew the cap completely to access the product. Once finished replace the cap."

Point being that even in technical documents the loosen/unscrew verbs are usually modified with further instructions to clarify the partially on or all the way off part of the definition.

  • +1 for mentioning that unscrew is more appropriate for technical directions. In day-to-day conversation, the more common would be open: "Can you open this jar of pickles?"
    – J.R.
    Jun 18, 2015 at 23:12

"Loosen" means that the seal of the jar will be broken, but the lid will be left on the jar. "Unscrew" implies that the lid will be removed.


"Unscrew" is valid if the cap is, in fact, a screw type. (Though you probably only need assistance in loosening it, not completing the job.) If it's some other kind of seal, "loosen", "open" or "undo" might be more appropriate.


Unscrew indicates the lid/cap and container are of the screw variety.

Loosen doesn't imply that the lid/cap must be of the screw type, it could be held on by friction.

Loosen also sounds less than completely remove. One might loosen a screw in order to make room for something else to fit on it without removing it completely. Unscrew without any other modifiers has more completeness implied.

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