Steal vs. Steel — What’s the Difference

Steal and steel — two words that are easily confused. These homophones (words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings) trip up many people, much like the most commonly confused words!

Though they look similar and sound the same, they are not interchangeable. “To steal” is to take something without permission, while “steel” is a metal alloy. Let’s break down the differences and look at some examples.

Definition and When to Use Steal

“Steal” is a verb. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means “to take something without the permission or knowledge of the owner and keep it.” It implies an act of theft, where ownership is unlawfully transferred.

Examples of Steal

  • “The thief tried to steal the car, but the alarm went off.”
  • “She accused him of stealing her idea.”
  • “Don’t steal candy from a baby!” (“Stealing candy from a baby” is an expression that signifies something that is done easily or taken without a fight.)

We also use “steal” to mean doing something quickly or without being noticed, such as when we say “steal a glance.”

Definition and When to Use Steel

“Steel” is a noun that refers to a strong, versatile metal alloy made primarily of iron and carbon. It’s used in various applications, from construction to manufacturing to household appliances.

Examples of Steel

  • “The building’s frame is made of steel.”
  • “The surgeon used a steel scalpel during the operation.”
  • “This silverware is made of stainless steel.”

But Wait, There’s More — Steel as a Verb

“Steel” also has a verb form. According to Merriam-Webster, “to steel” is “to fill with resolution or determination.” This verb form of “steel” signifies strengthening, preparing oneself mentally, as though metaphorically reinforcing your resolve with steel.

  • Example: “The athlete steeled herself for the upcoming competition, knowing it would be a tough challenge.”
  • Example: “Before facing the angry customer, the salesperson took a deep breath and steeled her nerves.” (Notice the past tense here.)

Steal and Steel — Used Together

Let’s look at steal and steel used in the same sentence.

  • “The thief tried to steal the ruby necklace, but the vault was reinforced with steel.”
  • “The pirate buried his treasure in a locked steel chest, hoping to prevent others from stealing his loot.”
  • “She steeled herself before stealing the steel necklace.”

Interested in Learning More about Commonly Confused Words? 

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Getting these words right in your writing or speech is crucial for clear and effective communication. Many writers and content producers occasionally trip up over these terms, which can result in content that confuses the reader or, even worse, makes them think you aren’t a credible source.

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