18th November 2019
Word Choice: Steal vs. Steel
Like many homophones, “steal” and “steel” sound the same yet differ in meaning. But these terms can be extra tricky, as both have noun and verb uses. So to make sure you always use the right word in the right place, check out our guide to the differences between “steal” and “steel.”
Steal (Take Without Permission)
“Steal” is primarily a verb (i.e., an action word). Its main use is to mean “take and keep something without the permission of the owner.” For example, if someone had to resort to theft to feed themselves, we might say:
He was so poor he had to steal food to eat.
The simple past tense of “steal” is “stole,” while the past participle is “stolen.”
A less common use of “steal” as a verb is to mean “do something without being noticed.” For example, we could say something like:
She stole a glance at his notebook while he wasn’t looking.
In this context, “stole’ simply means that the glance was secretive.
As a noun, meanwhile, we use “steal” to mean “something acquired at a very low price.” So if someone had bagged themselves a bargain, we might say:
That new TV you got in the sales was a complete steal!
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
This noun use of “steal” is mostly informal formal, though, so it is much rarer.
Steel (Metal Made of Iron and Carbon)
As a noun, “steel” usually refers to an alloy of iron and carbon. It is very hard and relatively cheap to make, so people use it for everything from cutlery and guitar strings to vehicles and major building projects.
Drawing on the toughness of the metal, some people use “steel” as a verb meaning “prepare yourself for something unpleasant or difficult”:
I need to steel myself before I hear the verdict.
The past tense of this verb usage of “steel” is “steeled,” not “stole” as above.
Summary: Steal or Steel?
While these words sound the same, they refer to different things:
- Steal is mainly a verb meaning “take something without permission,” but it can also mean “do something without being noticed.” As a noun, it can mean “something acquired at a very low price,” but this is quite informal.
- Steel is a noun for a strong metal made of iron and carbon. However, as a verb it can also mean “prepare yourself for something difficult.”
The fact both words have different uses can make these terms tricky. But if you can remember that steel wire often comes on a reel, you should be able to avoid mix-ups. And for extra confidence your spelling is always correct, we have expert proofreaders available 24/7.
Grammar Tips: Superlatives
Whether you’ve heard of superlatives or not, you probably use them all the time without...
Grammar Tips: Adverbs
Have you ever felt confused about what, exactly, adverbs are? If so, you’ve come to...
A Guide to Indirect Objects
Issues in English grammar can present various difficulties to ESL students and native speakers alike....
3 Services for Transcribing Audio to Text
If you’ve been manually transcribing your audio files to text, it’s time to upgrade. With...
Grammar Tips: Transitive Verbs
At its most basic, a fully-functioning sentence in English will need a subject and a...
How to Write an Annual Report
Writing an annual report can be an overwhelming task to undertake. In this article, we’ll...
institutions and businesses