Easily Confused Words: Stream vs. Steam

Stream and steam are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Stream (pronounced “streem”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a noun, it means a small tributary that trails off from a larger body of water.
  • As a verb, it means to view video and film via an internet connection.
  • As a verb, it means to flow like a stream.

Steam (pronounced “steem”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a noun, it means vaporized water that rises from a pot of boiling water. This is an indicator the water is hot enough for boiling food for cooking, or using the water to make instant beverages.
  • As a verb, it can mean a cooking method that prepares vegetables, rice, or other food by using steam.
  • As a verb, it means a person feeling irritated or angry at someone or something.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Steele collected some from water from a nearby stream to make dinner. He wasn’t sure if it was potable, so he took it back to his campfire and brought it to a boil. Once the steam began to rise from his kettle, he knew it was ready. He pulled out the fish fillets he had prepared and dropped them in a portion of the boiling water. He also poured a cup of tea. 

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