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There is a tiny pile of food on the floor. The food includes some cooked rice and fish. The pile is much smaller than your foot.

Would you say "don't step in or on that tiny pile of food"?

I agree that if the size of the pile of food is much bigger than the size of your foot, then we can use "IN", for example, "don't step in that big pile of food".

But if the size of the pile is much smaller than your foot, then you "don't step in it" but flatten it and cover your foot "ON" it.

Some native speakers say we don't care about the size. If the substances are soft or liquid form, then just use "IN" no matter how big or small the substance is. Others say if the substances are soft or liquid form and smaller than our foot, then use "ON", but if they are bigger than our foot, then use "IN".

  • 1
    Step in refers to liquids or semi-solids like pastes (dog poo, anyone?). Step on refers to solids,even very small particles.. Jun 15, 2020 at 15:00
  • Not really. I'd probably say "Oh no! I dropped some food. Watch you don't step on it!"
    – Billy Kerr
    Mar 14, 2022 at 21:49

2 Answers 2


If it is that small I'd use "on", but "in" would work well too.

I'd probably switch to "in" roughly if the food is big (or soft) enough that it is squeezed to the side of the foot by the step.

There isn't a super strict rule applied here.


There are no uniform rules. I consider anything that might stick to my shoe or foot after stepping as being something I have stepped in.

Anything that will not stick to my shoe or leave a residue on my shoe I consider as something stepped on.

I stepped in dog poo, chewing gum, paint, road tar, a dirty diaper (because it left baby doo on my shoe), a mud puddle, and whipped cream.

I stepped on a stick, a ladybug, the front porch, a diaper (nothing stuck to my foot), and a snowdrift.

Notice the more common usage of articles with stepped on. We are more likely to step in uncountable things.

And yes, a ladybug would leave residue but I would have to search for it. The residue associated with stepping in is usually an obvious residue.

If after I stepped on the snowdrift my boot sank and became partially filled with snow, I might say I stepped in the snowdrift.

P.S. Love the cooked rice and fish graphic! I think that's a step on but if the pile was so big that I needed to wipe my shoe, then it's a step in.

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