Word Confusion: Stair versus Stare

Posted June 30, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 11 October 2017

“She staired at him in disbelief. How could he do this to her?

I don’t know about you, but I’d wonder how she could “stair” at someone. Does she throw one of those pre-made stair riser things?

Then there was the story in which “he took the stares three at a time, as he rushed to…”.

Oh, boy. I suppose the character could have been metaphorically “ignoring” the stares as he rushed somewhere, but it sure seemed like he was running up some stairs in the sentence.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

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Stair Stare
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: stare

Diagram showing the parts of a stair

“Stairway Measurements” is Jaksmata’s own work under the CC BY-SA 3.0 or the GFDL license, via Wikimedia Commons

Now you know what the parts of a stair are as well.

Two physics student stare at or in a Goniometer-Spectrometer

“Physik-Praktikum” is courtesy of Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-P1216-0020 / Raphael (verehel. Grubitzsch), Waltraud under the CC BY-SA 3.0 de license, via Wikimedia Commons

Marta stares in fascination at the Goniometer-Spectrometer.

Part of Grammar:
Plural: stairs
Noun 1, 2; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: stares
Past tense or past participle: stared
Gerund or present participle: staring

A set of steps leading from one floor of a building to another, typically inside the building

  • A single step in a set of stairs
A long fixed or vacant look 1

[British; dialect] A starling 2

Verb, intransitive:
Look fixedly or vacantly at someone or something with one’s eyes wide open

  • [Of a person’s eyes] Be wide open, with a fixed or vacant expression
  • [Of a thing] Be unpleasantly prominent or striking

Verb, transitive:
Stare down

  • To cause to become uncomfortable by gazing steadily at one
  • Overcome by staring
He came rushing down the stairs.

Watch out for that bottom stair.

The third step up on those stairs creaks in the middle.

He sprang up the stairs with a snarl.

She gave him a cold stare.

Helena trembled as her boss fixed with a hard stare.

Verb, intransitive:
He stared at her in amazement.

Robin sat staring into space, her mind numb.

Her gray eyes stared back at him.

The obituaries stared out at us.

Seeing the soldiers arrayed before us made us realize we were staring defeat in the face.

Verb, transitive:
He was amazing as he stared that bull down.

Jenny, that man over there is staring at me!

The policeman found her staring at nothing.

Katy wasn’t going to let that jerk stare me down.

Adjective: stairless, stairlike
Noun: downstairs, staircase, stairway, stairwell
Adverb: staringly
Noun: starer
Phrasal Verb
stare someone down
History of the Word:
Old English stæger is of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch steiger meaning scaffolding, from a base meaning climb. 1Old English starian is of Germanic origin, from a base meaning be rigid.

2 Old English stær.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Pinterest Photo Credits

The Stairmaster 7000pt Commercial Stepmill is courtesy of GymPros.com and Randa Kamel Egyptian Bellydancer, 2007, is Judith Scheepstra’s own work under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.