The difference between steps and stairs is that stairs (or a stairway) are a structure made up of individual steps, and the steps are the individual “risers” that we use to move up the stairway.
The words are closely connected because they both refer to something we use to walk up.
This article will take a brief look at the difference between the words steps and stairs and the reasons we tend to confuse the meanings of both.
What is another word for stairs?
We often (correctly) refer to stairs as a set of stairs or as a staircase or stairway. The word stairs is plural, but staircase, stairway, and stairwell (the shaft in which the staircase is built) are all singular nouns.
Staircase, stairway, and stairs all refer to a single structure, and yet stairs can also refer to the plural “steps”.
It is no wonder that these nouns are confusing.
What does the word step also refer to?
The noun step has other meanings. It can refer to a physical pace (he took a few large steps and he was at the door), the completion of a small part of a task (they finished the job one small step at a time), and to the sound of a physical footstep (I could hear her steps coming closer).
The verb step is written and pronounced exactly the same way. It refers to the act of walking (they stepped out together at a fast pace).
Why do we get steps and stairs mixed up?
Steps and stairs are all connected to acts or items related to movement, either physical or emotional. In terms of the physical structure of steps, we interchange the words according to where we are.
In other words, we will call a flight of steps stairs when it is inside, and steps when they are outside. For example:
After you go through the front door, take the stairs up to the first floor.
After you go through the gate, take the steps up to the front door.
A very short set of stairs inside can be called steps, but a very long set of steps outside will rarely be referred to as stairs or a staircase.
Steps and stairs are closely related references to the same thing – the structures we use to move upward toward another level and can be used interchangeably. However, they do serve a number of distinct functions.