How to distinguish "steal" from "steel"?


These two words have the same transcription [stiːl]. How to know which one of them had been told, considering the fact that both of them could be a noun or a verb?

For example:

  • I want to steel it.

  • I want to steal it.


Posted 2016-02-08T19:23:50.537

Reputation: 63

The verbs are different in the past tense (steeled vs stole) so in that particular usage it is easy to tell them apart, even without context. – Era – 2016-02-08T19:43:52.717

"I had pizza with ranch again today." "Oh, I didn't know that Ranch liked pizza!" -- As they say, "context, context, context!" – Damkerng T. – 2016-02-08T20:52:44.200

You probably meant to say "has been said" as opposed to "has been told". – Msfolly – 2016-02-08T20:57:04.470

1It's also probably worth noting that steel is most frequently used as a noun (or an adjective), while steal is most frequently used as a verb. – Era – 2016-02-08T21:05:11.873

2In the right context there's nothing wrong with I want to steel it, but it's such a strange thing to say I can confidently assert that I will never have heard it in my entire life. The fact that both words can be used as either nouns or verbs is completely irrelevant here, since in the example usage they're both verbs. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-02-08T22:09:45.163

1@FumbleFingers I have never heard "I want to steel it", either, but, I could think of contexts where it would be a reasonable thing to say... ;-) BUT - the point here is that while it sounded like a slam dunk easy question, the context he had to make the judgement from was EXTREMELY brief, to say the least, and he is an English Language LEARNER. I think he did very well to have figured out that they both were pronounced the same way AND could be both a noun and a verb. Obviously, he had done 'his homework' and was still confused. Sometimes these things only seem easy in retrospect. – Msfolly – 2016-02-08T22:18:40.193

@Msfolly: I've managed to both understand and generate English for over 60 years without ever needing to take on board the possibility that *steel* might be used as a verb - apart from in the reflexive figurative sense of mentally prepare (oneself), which clearly can't apply with *it* as a direct object. I would say OP is making a rod for his own back by juxtaposing an extremely common verb with an extremely rare homophonous usage. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-02-09T14:27:36.760

1The thing is I have encountered same situations with other similar-sounding words (probably less rare) and this pair is just the one when I decided to ask here. I mean this confusion is highly unfamiliar to slavic language speakers. So I thought there's some secret behind it except just context of usage. – Yevheniy8 – 2016-02-09T16:53:24.693

@FumbleFingers Well, right now, I am following a group of H.S. students who are constructing robots. I could easily see someone saying "I want to steel it." meaning, of course, to protect some part with steel or to re-reinforce it somehow. It would be a very informal way to convey the thought, but teenagers being what they are, this construct might not be so exotic as you might imagine. THAT, however, was not my point... if you are learning a language, I have found that I can not fathom how some things confuse me, but, they do! I just believe that most people that use this site ARE trying. – Msfolly – 2016-02-09T18:37:42.347

@Yeheniy8 Yes, English is SO fun this way... (Ironic) I am glad you asked. Our discussion on this has been a LOT longer than the question and the answer! ;-) – Msfolly – 2016-02-09T18:39:58.167

1@Msfolly: All I can say is I'm astonished this question still hasn't been closed. Whilst I have every sympathy with learners facing the problem of trying to decide which of two homophonous words they just heard, I find it hard to imagine anyone seriously believes there's any point in attempting to actually answer the question as posed here. All anyone can say is *context, context, context!* (and if you happen to know one word is much more commonly used as a verb than the other, assume that's the one - unless there's significant contextual support for the less common one). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-02-09T19:03:56.283

Okay, being a learner, right now, of Italian, I can confidently tell you that there is NO confusion or 'level of dumbness' that I am not experiencing right now, myself. I am working very hard, but sometimes, I just don't "get" it. I guess I have a little more commiseration, therefore, for this type of question. So, now the poster knows to look for context. He is new to the language, and as you can see, thought that there might be some sort of rule that would help him. How is he supposed to know that there is NOT a shortcut? It seems rational to me... – Msfolly – 2016-02-09T19:26:25.243

@Msfolly Please don't confuse closing a question with passing judgment on whether it's a good question to ask. It's a perfectly valid question to ask, the problem is that it's not good for this format. The only answer is "you know from the context." It's not particularly useful information to catalog for future reference. It's not going to help the person trying to figure out how to tell the difference between tails and tales. – ColleenV – 2016-02-16T04:49:47.960



Well, these words have VERY different meanings.
Since steel means (verb) to fortify or (noun) a metal, and steal means (verb) to move in a sneaky way or taking something that is not yours or (noun, figurative) something bought very cheaply, I can scarcely see how you could confuse the two when taken in context.

Just consider the meanings of the words around the ones in question, and I am sure that you will be able to differentiate between them.


Posted 2016-02-08T19:23:50.537

Reputation: 608

1steal is not a noun, but a verb, though your general point is valid. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-02-08T20:42:26.450


@TRomano Oh, yes - it CAN be a noun, as well as a verb. This hat I bought is a steal!

– Msfolly – 2016-02-08T20:47:53.337

In the sense of "to take something that is not yours" as in your answer, it is a verb, – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-02-08T20:49:17.413

@TRomono - you are correct, there, I will edit it! – Msfolly – 2016-02-08T20:50:50.370

1Well, actually that's what I thought, but wasn't sure if my transcription is correct. – Yevheniy8 – 2016-02-08T21:45:43.530

@Yeheniy8 Well, okay, from your edit I see that it must be "I want to steal it" . I can see why, in such short sentences, that it might be very difficult to figure out the context, especially if you are learning the language. – Msfolly – 2016-02-08T22:00:24.937