What Does Carved In Stone Mean?

Carved in Stone Meaning

Definition: Unchangeable.

Many people use this expression in its negative form: It isn’t carved in stone. This means that whatever the rule or plan is, it isn’t permanent. Another common form is (not) set in stone.

Origin of Carved in Stone

Imagine if you write something in pencil on paper, or if you write something on your computer. If you decide you want to change it later, you can easily erase it or delete it.

However, what if you had carved those words into stone? It would be much harder to change it.

In the past, as in the present, only permanent things are written in stone. One common example is that of tombstones. This expression became popular in the 1700s.

Examples of Carved in Stone

Meaning of carved in stoneIn this conversation, a mother is trying to reassure her daughter that she can change her plans.

Daughter: Mom, I’m starting to have doubts about my wedding.

Mother: Why? What’s the matter?

Daughter: Well, as it gets closer and closer, I’m wondering if I really want to be with Michael for the rest of my life.

Mother: Wow. That’s a pretty big doubt to be having.

Daughter: I know. But I guess it’s too late to call off the wedding.

Mother: Oh no, I don’t think so.

Daughter: But we already sent out the invitations.

Mother: Your happiness is more important than canceling some invitations. You don’t have to go through with the wedding. Nothing is carved in stone. It is better to cancel the wedding now than to go through a divorce later.

Define carved in stoneIn this example, two coworkers talk about breaking a tradition.

Dave: Hey, it’s Thursday. Are you ready to go to the sandwich shop?

Ben: I’m not really in the mood for sandwiches. Let’s go get smoothies today.

Dave: We can’t! We always get sandwiches on Thursdays.

Ben: I know, but it’s not carved in stone. We are free to change our plans.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about things patients don’t know about their doctors. It explains that most doctors treat patients differently than one another.

  • Even in the hands of experienced physicians, there is really no such thing as a “standard of care” because in very few instances is there a proven, carved-in-stone “right” way to treat a patient: In a national survey, 95% of physicians said doctors vary in how they would treat identical patients. –New York Post

This example is from an article about tips on paying for a college education. It suggests that some prices are negotiable or can be changed.

  • Tuition and other costs are printed in brochures and posted on websites, but they are not carved in stone.  New York Times


Carved in stone means that something is permanent and unalterable.