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ESL forum > Ask for help > They are all stairs but...    

They are all stairs but...


They are all stairs but...
Hi dear friends!
Could you please give me some help on the best way to explain the difference / similarity of the following words: stairs / stairway / staircase / stairwell
Thanks a million!!

12 Jan 2015      

United States

The first three are the same - a set of steps. A stairwell is a shaft through a building that contains a stairway. Bruce

12 Jan 2015     


For me, "stairs" describes a set of individual steps which make up a passage to the next floor.
Examples: go up the stairs, come down the stairs, the child is sitting on the stairs, the coat cupboard is under the stairs, we need to clean the stairs.
A "staircase" is a set of stairs seen as a unity. You cannot "go up a staircase", for example.
Examples: this staircase is 18th-century, the staircase in the new house is not very safe
A "stairwell" is the shaft, as Bruce says.
Examples: He fell down the stairwell, please don ´t leave bikes in the stairwell.
I wouldn ´t use the word "stairway" in UK English except in the phrase "stairway to heaven"! 

13 Jan 2015     

United States

I disagree with FrauSue on staircase. There is even a book (and movie) called Up the Down Staircase, and a line in them - "You are going up the down staircase." I will agree, though, that "go up those stairs" is far more common than "go up that staircase." Bruce

13 Jan 2015     

United Kingdom

I would be much more likely to use ´staircase ´ in a context which means a staircase as an entity, as in ´We need to decorate the staircase ´ and that means the walls. I think ´stairwell ´ is the bit at the bottom of the stairs and ´stairway ´ is unusual, but coming in. Is it creeping Americanisation? I think we have more or less a consensus here!

13 Jan 2015     


Thanks for your comment, Bruce - I wonder if it is a UK/US English issue. "Go up the staircase" sounds strange to my UK ears as it doesn ´t imply climbing, somehow, but rather a continuous movement. I went up the stairs, but the dado rail went all the way up the staircase. But often I (Scottish) disagree with my husband (English) on vocabulary issues, so it could be a regional difference.
TMMF - I hope this helps you rather than confusing you! 

14 Jan 2015