What's more common for naming the substance that rises up from water bubbling in the kettle?

Here is some context:

"I saw vapor/steam from the kettle, so I think it's already ready."

"On a cold day, if you exhale you can see vapor/steam going out of your mouth."

"The bread is still hot, look at the vapor/steam that rises from it"


1 Answer 1


steam is used more of food and beverages whereas vapor is used more of chemical liquids and condensation.

A steaming bowl of soup sounds like a perfect lunch on a cold day.

A vaporous bowl of soup doesn't sound very appetizing.

  • Also, steam is particularly associated with boiling (or recently boiled) water or other liquids. Your breath on a cold day doesn't come from anything boiling hot. Commented Jan 8 at 15:38
  • To an engineer or scientist, true steam (sometimes called 'dry steam' in the boiler industry) is invisible. What you can see is water vapour ('vapor' in US English), tiny droplets of water suspended in the air. If you have the type of kettle that does not switch off when it boils you can see the first couple of centimetres of what emerges from the spout are invisible, then the steam condenses to water vapour. But we say that soup 'steams'. Commented Jan 8 at 16:01
  • 1
    I understand OP's question to be asking about a domestic setting (tea kettle and fresh-baked bread) not a factory or a laboratory.
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 8 at 16:19
  • Yup, all but scientists think the white fluffy stuff is 'steam'. I wouldn't try to fight that for an ELL question. Commented Jan 8 at 18:02

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