\ ˈstēm How to pronounce steam (audio) \

Definition of steam

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a vapor arising from a heated substance
2a : the invisible vapor into which water is converted when heated to the boiling point
b : the mist formed by the condensation on cooling of water vapor
3a : water vapor kept under pressure so as to supply energy for heating, cooking, or mechanical work also : the power so generated
b : active force : power, momentum got there under his own steam sales began to pick up steam also : normal force at full steam
c : pent-up emotional tension needed to let off a little steam
b : travel by or a trip in a steamer


steamed; steaming; steams

Definition of steam (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to give out as fumes : exhale
2 : to apply steam to especially : to expose to the action of steam (as for softening or cooking)

intransitive verb

1 : to rise or pass off as vapor
2 : to give off steam or vapor
3a : to move or travel by the agency of steam
b : to move or proceed with energy or force
4 : to be angry : boil steaming over the insult

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for steam

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of steam in a Sentence

Noun Careful, the steam from the pot is hot. The boat runs on steam. He wiped the steam from the mirrors. He was afraid he would run out of steam before the end of the race. I was making good progress this morning, but now I'm starting to run out of steam. Verb a steaming bowl of soup She prefers to steam carrots rather than boil them. Their breath steamed the windows.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun March 21 marks the one-year anniversary of the initial border closures, which came as the coronavirus pandemic gained steam in the United States. Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY, "US borders with Canada and Mexico to remain shut until March 21, marking full year of closures," 23 Feb. 2021 As the Tesla rally gained steam in July, Mr. Musk could not contain his glee, lashing out at his doubters and his chief regulator in the same breath. New York Times, "Elon Musk Becomes Unlikely Anti-Establishment Hero in GameStop Saga," 29 Jan. 2021 Just as at-home workouts, cooking and home-improvement projects gained steam in the pandemic economy, outdoor activity has proven to be a reprieve for many households. Jinjoo Lee, WSJ, "The Great Outdoors Offers Retail Winners," 11 Jan. 2021 The use of protective shields gained steam in 2017 after high-profile assaults, including one involving a woman who threw urine at a driver on an X2 bus. Washington Post, "Plastic barriers protected bus drivers from assaults. Now they shield them from the coronavirus.," 30 Dec. 2020 An online petition to stop a white supremacist church from making a small western Minnesota town its hub for Midwest activities has gained steam this week, quickly becoming one of the most popular petitions on Reid Forgrave, Star Tribune, "Online petition to block whites-only church in western Minnesota gains steam," 15 Dec. 2020 Acosta's report quickly gained steam on social media Friday evening. Marlowe Alter, Detroit Free Press, "How might Donald Trump leave the White House? Think Bad Boys Pistons walking off vs. Bulls," 14 Nov. 2020 The idea of providing less funding to police departments has gained steam in 2020 following a number of deaths at the hands of police officers, while many of the victims were people of color. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner, "Portland city commissioner in favor of defunding police called 911 over Lyft incident," 11 Nov. 2020 Dallas' home prices have gained steam in recent months as homebuyers rushed to take advantage of record low mortgage rates. Steve Brown, Dallas News, "Dallas-home price growth strongest in two years," 27 Oct. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Bring the water to a boil, add the potatoes, cover, and steam till they're almost done. Sheryl Julian,, "Recipe: These ultra-crispy roast potatoes are crunchy like chips," 19 Jan. 2021 Pots of boiling water steam the windows, obscuring the snowdrifts outside. The Economist, "From Russia with mayo: the story of a Soviet super-salad," 27 Dec. 2020 Pour in 1 cup dry white wine, such as Spanish albariño, cover the pot, and steam over high heat until the mussels open, 5–10 minutes. Benjamin Kemper, Bon Appétit, "My Only Holiday Plan Is Making My Own Mussels in Escabeche," 21 Dec. 2020 The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is currently off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean but could steam back north to the Arabian Sea to launch attacks from its dozens of F-18 Super Hornets, if needed, the senior military official said. Fox News, "B-52s fly over Persian Gulf as 'complex attacks' from Iran feared, US ready to thwart," 31 Dec. 2020 Follow the instructions on the device to steam the spot and suck away any residue. Amanda Sims Clifford, House Beautiful, "How to Clean a Couch, According to a Professional Upholsterer," 18 Dec. 2020 Instead, cut six cups of cauliflower florets, steam them in the microwave, and use the resulting mulch to barter with your neighbors for cash. Colin Stokes, The New Yorker, "Twelve Surprising Ways to Use Cauliflower," 11 Dec. 2020 Remove pan from heat, fold in the vegetables, replace the lid and leave the rice to steam for 10 minutes. Star Tribune, "Recipes from our favorite cookbooks: Winter Pilau With Beets, Cauliflower and Cilantro Chutney, Powdered Donut Cake," 9 Dec. 2020 In these ancient temples, Heron used hydraulic and steam power to create singing birds, bursts of flame, and moving statues in the hopes of inspiring awe—and devotion—into would-be disciples. Addison Nugent, Popular Mechanics, "Why Heron's Aeolipile Is One of History's Greatest Forgotten Machines," 29 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'steam.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of steam


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for steam


Middle English stem, from Old English stēam; akin to Dutch stoom steam

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about steam

Time Traveler for steam

Time Traveler

The first known use of steam was before the 12th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for steam

Last Updated

27 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Steam.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for steam



English Language Learners Definition of steam

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the hot gas that is created when water is boiled
: steam that is created by a machine and kept under pressure to provide power
: very small drops of water that form on a surface when warm air that contains a lot of water is cooled down



English Language Learners Definition of steam (Entry 2 of 2)

: to produce steam
: to cook, heat, or treat (something) with steam
: to cause (something, such as a piece of glass) to become covered with small drops of water


\ ˈstēm How to pronounce steam (audio) \

Kids Definition of steam

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the vapor into which water is changed when heated to the boiling point
2 : steam or the heat or power produced by it when kept under pressure Some houses are heated by steam.
3 : the mist formed when water vapor cools
4 : driving force : power By the end of the day, I had run out of steam.


steamed; steaming

Kids Definition of steam (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to give off steam or vapor The cocoa steamed fragrantly in the saucepan …— Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
2 : to rise or pass off as steam Heat steamed from the pipes.
3 : to move or travel by or as if by the power of steam The ship steamed out of the harbor. She steamed past the fancy brick entrance to the golf course …— Carl Hiaasen, Hoot
4 : to expose to steam (as for cooking)

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on steam

What made you want to look up steam? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

February 2021 Words of the Day Quiz

  • squirrel in winter
  • Which is a synonym of perdure?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!