2

Example:

Four of our days of the week - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were named in honour of Anglo-Saxon gods, but they didn’t bother with Saturday, Sunday and Monday as they had all gone off for a long weekend.

While they were away, Christian missionaries stole in bringing with them leaflets about jumble sales and more Latin.

Christianity was a hit with the locals and made them much happier to take on funky new words like ‘martyr’, ‘bishop’ and ‘font’.

What does stole in mean?

3

Stole is the past tense of steal.

Knowing this I was able to use Google to find a nice set of synonyms for steal - creep, sneak, slink, slide, slip, glide, tiptoe, sidle, edge. Since steal is an irregular verb, it was not an obvious search. The humorous entry was accusing the the Christians of being sneaky, not of being thieves.

Stole in means that the missionaries slipped into town when no was looking. It is somewhat idiomatic.

It's interesting to note that four of the synonyms listed also have irregular past tenses - crept (or creeped), snuck (or sneaked), slunk (or slinked), slid (or slided). It's further interesting to note that my built-in spell-checker did not accept creeped, snuck, slinked or slided. The English language is, if nothing else, constantly evolving.

2

As a matter of fact, in your example it is the intransitive use of the verb steal, see the definition #2, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

  1. To move, happen, or elapse stealthily or unobtrusively.

Consequently, your sentence reads:

While they were away, Christian missionaries move in bringing with them leaflets about jumble sales and more Latin.

So, they stole in bringing with them, not they stole in bringing with them.

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