I was given a fill in-blanks exercises and couldn't decide between the following options:

The ground/soil below the streets of New York city is hard/stiff enough to support the weight of the skyscrapers without sinking.

I can't see a great deal of difference between the two but I guess it's about the nuances of meaning of the four words. What do you think?

  • This is really two questions, one is ground v soil, the other is hard v stiff.
    – Chenmunka
    Feb 23, 2016 at 13:52
  • Hmm, as someone who has been speaking English for 50+ years, I think both "ground" and "soil" could work here. I don't see how could say that either one is wrong.
    – Jay
    Feb 23, 2016 at 14:40

2 Answers 2


Without getting into physics:

Stiff refers to a lack of flex.

Hard refers to a resistance to impression.

We do not say that soil bends, so "stiff" is an inappropriate adjective for soil. Soil is hard or soft or somewhere in-between. The ground is hard.

A metal rod that reinforces concrete is stiff. It is not easily bent.

  • Thank you. Do you also think that 'soil' works better than 'ground'?
    – Nicol
    Feb 23, 2016 at 14:56
  • I'd tend to use "ground" for building and "soil" for planting. Soil refers to the topmost layer. Feb 23, 2016 at 15:17
  • I agree that of the two choices, hard is slightly better. If I was filling in the blank from scratch, though, I would choose firm over either one.
    – Adam
    Feb 25, 2016 at 0:34

Ground is more general than soil. In the case of Manhattan, the ground is actually made of granite, a kind of hard rock with a little bit of soil on the top.

For the second part of your question, 'stiff' versus 'hard', the difficulty is that in some contexts these are synonyms. Yet 'stiff' means hard to bend as mentioned in the answer from @TRomano, whereas 'hard' means resistant to pressure.

Your full answer is then

The ground below the streets of New York city is hard enough to support the weight of the skyscrapers without sinking.

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