Stear Clear vs. Steer Clear – Which is Correct?

When you avoid something, do you stear clear or steer clear of it?

If you see steer and think an ox who has not yet turned four, you aren’t wrong. Steer has multiple uses, though, and another one is to navigate.

The word stear, though, is a little trickier. Most word processors flag it as an error, but is it a real word?

Continue reading to learn more about both versions of this potentially confusing English idiom.

What is the Difference Between Stear Clear and Steer Clear?

In this post, I will compare stear clear vs. steer clear and use the correct version of this phrase in multiple example sentences. This way, you will be able to see it in its proper context.

I will also share a helpful memory tool that will aid you in your journey to becoming a strong writer.

When to Use Steer Clear

stear clear versus steer clearWhat does steer clear mean? Steer clear is a verb phrase. It is an idiom that means to stay away from something. Children might steer clear of a bully on a playground, for instance, or an investor might steer clear of a financially unstable company’s stock.

Here are a few more examples,

  • “I steer clear of Aaron at parties,” the woman said of her particularly lascivious acquaintance.
  • Steer clear of any vehicle identification number databases that ask for a credit card number.
  • But a growing number of record companies are trying to steer clear of Apple Inc.’s behemoth music store, because they say selling single songs on iTunes in some cases is crimping overall music sales. –The Wall Street Journal

Steer clear comprises the verb steer, meaning to navigate, and clear, and adverb that means at a safe distance. Thus, taken literally, steer clear means to navigate to a place of safety.

Steer, of course, can also be a noun that refers to male cattle. This meaning is unrelated to the expression steer clear.

When to Use Stear Clear

define steer clear define stear clear What does stear clear mean? Stear clear is misspelling of the phrase steer clear, as stear is not a recognized spelling of any word, let alone steer.

This spelling is probably related to the -ear ending of clear. Inexperienced or hasty writers probably generalize the same spelling across both words, resulting in the erroneous stear clear.

As you can see from the chart below, which graphs steer clear vs. stear clear across English books published since 1800, steer clear is the only accepted spelling of this phrase.

definition of steer clear definition of stear clear definition

Steer clear is more than 1000 times more common than stear clear, which only appears in the rarest of all occasions.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Stear clear is a misspelling and has no place in a writer’s vocabulary. This fact leaves us with just one spelling to use in our writing: steer clear.

Since stear clear contains an extra A, like avoid, you should always know to avoid this spelling.

Summary

Is it steer clear or stear clear? Stear clear is an idiomatic verb phrase that means to stay away from something.

  • Steer clear is the correct spelling of this phrase.
  • Stear clear is a spelling error.

Steer clear probably stems from overgeneralization of the -ear ending to both words.