Stair and Stare

Commonly Confused Words

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"The woman stared back at him and said nothing: her face was as expressionless as a plate" (Ian MacKenzie, City of Strangers, 2009). (Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images)

The words stair and stare are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun stair refers to a step or one of a series of steps. The plural form, stairs, refers to a staircase or a flight of stairs.

The verb stare means to look steadily, intently, or vacantly at someone or something. As a noun, stare means a long look with eyes wide open.

Examples

  • Cole tripped on a stair and fell down seven steps.
     
  • "[W]e joined the lines of office workers who were tunneling down the stairs into the cool underground caverns below."
    (Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman, 1969)
     
  • "Next to him in the front seat of the sedan was Buddy, their nine-year-old boy, who turned his head to stare at them both, his father and mother." 
    (Paul Horgan, "The Peach Stone." Of America East and West: Selections from the Writings of Paul Horgan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984)
     
  • After giving me a long, hard stare, Silas put a toothpick into his mouth and walked away.

 

Idiom Alerts

  • Stare (Someone) Down
    The phrasal verb to stare down means to look directly and intently at someone or something, usually until that person or animal becomes uncomfortable and looks away. 
    "She was able to stare down the most fearsome university faculty or boardroom member and when push came to shove, she usually got her way."
    (Greig Beck, Beneath the Dark Ice. Pan, 2011)
     
  • Stare (Someone) in the Face
    The expression stare (or staring) in the face means that something is (or should be) noticeable or obvious.
    "And here I am, unknown and unemployed, a helpless artist lost in London—with a sick wife and hungry children, and bankruptcy staring me in the face."
    (Wilkie Collins, My Lady's Money: An Episode in the Life of a Young Girl, 1879)



    Practice Exercises

    (a) "The moon's perfect yellow dusted the thickening trees. Humperdinck could not help but _____ at their beauty."
    (William Goldman, The Princess Bride. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973)

    (b) "He crept close and stood on the top _____ beside me, breathing strangely."
    (Daphne Du Maurier, The King's General, 1946)

    (c) "As the Count saw us, a horrible sort of snarl passed over his face, showing the eye-teeth long and pointed; but the evil smile as quickly passed into a cold _____ of lion-like disdain."
    (Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897)

    (d) "On the sixth _____, Fezzik put his arm around Inigo's shoulder. 'We'll go down together, step by step. There's nothing here, Inigo.'"
    (William Goldman, The Princess Bride. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973)
     

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Stair and Stare

    (a) "The moon's perfect yellow dusted the thickening trees. Humperdinck could not help but stare at their beauty."
    (William Goldman, The Princess Bride. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973)

    (b) "He crept close and stood on the top stair beside me, breathing strangely."
    (Daphne Du Maurier, The King's General, 1946)

    (c) "As the Count saw us, a horrible sort of snarl passed over his face, showing the eye-teeth long and pointed; but the evil smile as quickly passed into a cold stare of lion-like disdain."
    (Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897)

    (d) "On the sixth stair, Fezzik put his arm around Inigo's shoulder.

    'We'll go down together, step by step. There's nothing here, Inigo.'"
    (William Goldman, The Princess Bride. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973)
     

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words