Do English speakers in UK or US use the term "iron" for the tool to press clothes to remove creases?

E.g. I had a problem to find pictures of iron like this:

enter image description here

What I find mostly was this:

enter image description here

How do the natives distinguish between these two "things"?

  • 4
    Yes, in the U.S., we call that an iron. As for finding more pictures, try searching for "electric iron" instead of just iron. How do we distinguish between them? Context, the same way we'd distinguish between the various possible meanings of other multifaceted words like pin, wave, fire, or mine.
    – J.R.
    Sep 11 '13 at 19:49
  • 2
    Here is a follow-on exercise. Search on Google images for wave; you'll find a lot of pictures like this. Now, change the search to "wave goodbye". Where did all the water go? This is more of a quirk of search engines than English, because in both cases (wave and iron) both meanings are common and valid. Absent context, though, and the search engine will make a best guess, and run with it. This is also why many ELL regulars almost beg for more context: without it, we can be as lost as a search engine. Great examples!
    – J.R.
    Sep 11 '13 at 19:58
  • Lots of words have more than one meaning. You tell by context. Occasionally the intended meaning is not clear and people get confused, or it serves as material for jokes.
    – Jay
    Sep 11 '13 at 20:26

The tool for pressing clothes is referred to as an iron, both in British and US English. If you want to remove any doubt whatsoever you can refer to it as a "clothes iron" but mostly this is unnecessary since context will make clear what you mean.

Your second image shows a piece of iron. This would never be described as "an iron" by a native speaker.

Just to confuse you even more there is a third meaning of iron, as a type of golf club:

a golfing iron

Again, generally context will make things clear.

  • 5
    Nigel: You are doing a great job ironing out this issue.
    – J.R.
    Sep 11 '13 at 20:04
  • @J.R. ugh your pun made me want to wrap that iron around my head. And what about Old Ironsides, and the Iron Horse... oh, oh, boys and girls, here we go ! *** "The seventh sense: Irony." *** Sep 11 '13 at 20:26
  • 2
    @Howard - Did I make a pun? ;^) Speaking of golf clubs, no matter how you slice it, it still comes down to context.
    – J.R.
    Sep 11 '13 at 20:36
  • 2
    You guys have too many irons in the fire.
    – Scott
    Sep 11 '13 at 23:21
  • 2
    There's also the plural noun. Granted, they're a bit uncommon today, but you still might need to read about people being clapped in irons Sep 12 '13 at 1:01

We distinguish them syntactically:

  1. Iron, the material, is a mass noun. It does not have a plural form, and it does not usually take an article. It's used without inflection as a modifier:
    • My armor is made of iron.
    • I've found a vein of iron ore.
    • He ruled with an iron fist. (figurative)
  2. A clothes iron, or more simply an iron, is an item used to remove wrinkles from clothes. This is a count noun. It can be in the singular or plural. It has a verb form, to iron, which can be used as a modifier in the form ironed:
    • There's an iron downstairs on the ironing board.
    • He had a pair of neatly ironed trousers.
    • The process has a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out. (figurative)
  3. In golf, certain clubs are called irons. They're most often referred to by a number from one to nine, as in a nine iron or a seven iron. This form is a count noun, and they are sometimes referred to simply as irons; when the are, you'll need to distinguish from clothes irons by context.
  4. In electronics, there is a device called a soldering iron, used to melt solder. This takes an article, just like an iron, but it's almost always marked by the word soldering.
  • 2
    There's also a branding iron that ranchers use to mark ownership of their cattle.
    – dan04
    Sep 12 '13 at 0:16
  • 1
    And then there's the iron that gets added to my corn flakes. (Yes, that's the element Fe, same as your #1, but it's still a different usage than armor and iron ore).
    – J.R.
    Sep 12 '13 at 0:34

Nice pictures !

I doubt you'd iron your clothes with a hot rock. Nor is it likely that you'd put a bunch of clothes irons in your rock garden. In the US, we say iron both as a verb "to iron" and as a noun for the device, clothes "iron". And the thing we do it on is an ironing board.

What about over in the UK ?

  • 1
    It's ironical that Ironman is not used in iron commercials, or is he?
    – Derfder
    Sep 11 '13 at 20:23
  • @Derfder Nope, not at all: for commercial work, Ironman's gotten rusty. Sep 11 '13 at 20:27
  • Howard, it is the same in the UK.
    – Tristan
    Sep 11 '13 at 22:05
  • Tristan thanks for helping us Ami's iron that out. @J.R. ;-P Sep 11 '13 at 22:51

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