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Steal vs. Steel vs. Still (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use steal vs. steel vs. still on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

This week, let's look at the differences of steal, steel, and still. All three words are versatile and sound similar, but they have very different meanings.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So let's steal away for a moment and consider the differences of steal, steel, and still.

steal_vs_steel_vs_still_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Steal vs. Steel vs. Still

Steal can be used as a verb or noun. As a verb, steal has two main meanings: to take without permission and/or illegally; or to arrive or leave secretly. Steal can also be used as a noun to define an act of stealing--or to refer to a bargain (as in "this deal is a steal").

Steel can be used as an adjective and verb, but it's probably best known as a noun to refer to commercial iron with specific characteristics and/or a sword or other implement that is made with steel. Steel is generally considered a strong metal, so both the verb and adjective meanings of the word play of this idea of strength and resiliency.

(9 tips for writers from S.E. Hinton.)

Still has the most flexibility of these three words, because it can be used as a noun, adverb, adjective, and verb. As a noun, still can mean quiet, silence, and/or lack of motion, but it can also refer to a distillery or contraption to perform distillation. As an adjective, still describes things or people that lack motion and/or sound. The most common way to use still as a verb is to quiet or settle something or someone (even if that someone is yourself). As an adverb, still means without motion (as in "stand still"); used to indicate the continuance of something (as in "he still sings on Sundays"); or in spite of something (as in "those who try hardest still fail sometimes").

Make sense?

Here are a few examples:

Correct: She held the wallet and knew it was wrong to steal its contents.
Incorrect: She held the wallet and knew it was wrong to steel its contents.
Incorrect: She held the wallet and knew it was wrong to still its contents.

Correct: The blade of his knife was made with American steel.
Incorrect: The blade of his knife was made with American steal.
Incorrect: The blade of his knife was made with American still.

Correct: The teacher told her students to settle down and sit still.
Incorrect: The teacher told her students to settle down and sit steal.
Incorrect: The teacher told her students to settle down and sit steel.

Steel is a metal, steal means to take something, and still means to be quiet and/or motionless. So steel can be still, but it's not advisable to steal someone's still steel.

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Grammar and Mechanics

No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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