I instruct my daughter when she's drinking milk

Take care; don't spill it.

How do we do the same for food i.e. solid food?

Take care; don't _______ it.

To my mind comes the only option - drop. But I also feel that 'dropping' suits more when the bowl is broken. Say - She dropped the bowl and broke it.

The problem further grows when we have 'specific' food

For french fries...

Take care; don't _____ the fries

For steak...

Take care; don't _____ the steak

For popcorn...

Take care; don't _____ popcorn

For burger...

Take care; don't _____ burger (I mean some pieces or inner content of it...maybe, some onion or sauce or anything that is 'inside' it).

Do we have different words for different 'shapes' of food? Say little pieces (popcorn), steak (one large piece), fries (long pieces)...and so on?

I'd like to have more options, if any.

spill is also used for solid food. For instance, spill the beans. But I feel it's especially for liquid.

The beauty is in my mother tongue, we have a common term used for everything!

  • I really don't see what's wrong with spill and drop. You spill cereal, but drop a steak.
    – zondo
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:12
  • 4
    @zondo: Agreed. But the reality of the situation is native speakers don't really have an ideal candidate verb for Don't xxx your food! to match Don't spill your drink! In practice we're more likely to rephrase to something like Don't make a mess with your food! Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:15
  • You can spill stuff, like I dropped my bag and spilled all the contents.
    – Schwale
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:30
  • "The beauty is in my mother tongue, we have a common term for everything!" Well, absolutely. But for some, it can be beauty, simplicity for others.
    – Usernew
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 6:40
  • I don't think beans in spill the beans refers to any food. You may want to check the meaning of this phrase. Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 7:06

3 Answers 3


"Spill" is not limited to liquids. It's quite common to say, for example, "The peanuts spilled out of the bowl".

Maybe, possibly, "spill" is thought of more for liquids or collections of small items. A fluent speaker would readily say both "The milk spilled out of the glass" and "the corn spilled off [or "from"] my plate". But I think he'd be unlikely to say, "The steak spilled off my plate." He'd be more likely to say, "The steak slid off ..." or "... fell off ...". For a plate we'd say "off", like "The steak slid off my plate." For a bowl it's generally "out of", like "butter fell out of the bowl". But you'd rarely have a single large item in a bowl. If you make it generic, like "When the airplane hit turbulence, the food spilled from my plate", I think it's perfectly good.

You might say, "I dropped my plate", but you wouldn't be likely to say, "I dropped my steak" if what happened was that you tilted the plate and the steak slid off. "Dropped" is appropriate for food held in the hand without a plate or bowl, like, "I dropped my ice cream cone".

  • As a native speaker of American English, I don't think I'd use spill for corn, unless it was kernels or popcorn. Creamed corn is too viscous to spill. But my friend always spills popcorn all over the table when pouring it from a huge bag. So, yes I agree about "small items" but only if they can move quickly and perhaps somewhat resemble how a liquid spills. I can spill M&Ms, but not cooked peas. I can spill dry cereal, but I'm not sure about cereal and milk. Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 2:49
  • @AlanCarmack Hmm. If I had a plate of peas on a table and someone bumped my plate or some such, I think the natural thing to say would be, "Hey, you spilled my peas." Ditto for kernels of corn. A single cob of corn it gets more questionable.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 3:47
  • Dry kernels of corn, but not creamed corn. Peas, yeah maybe. Whatever it is, it has to be able to spill out, which in one sense means rapid movement, like water and other liquids. Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 13:34

"Spill" is also used for solid foods. In some circumstances, "drop" seems to be a better choice. For example:

Oops! I dropped my hamburger.
Dude, why are you so clumsy? You spilled all your food on my notebook.

From Cambridge Dictionary

Spill: to (​cause to) ​flow, ​move, ​fall, or ​spread over the ​edge or ​outside the ​limits of something:

I spilled ​coffee on my ​silk ​shirt.
You've spilled something down ​your ​tie.
Let's ​see if I can ​pour the ​juice into the ​glass without spilling it.
He ​dropped a ​bag of ​sugar and it spilled all over the ​floor.
Crowds of ​fans spilled onto the ​field at the end of the ​game.

From thefreedictionary:

To cause or allow (a substance) to run or fall out of a container.

You can also say:

Be careful, don't spill your food.


Drop is when you are holding something in your hand and lose the grip, intentionally or unintentionally, and make the container or the contents to fall on the ground. Spill is more like an after-effect. When you drop something from your hand or accidentally tumble a sitting container and the contents pour out of the container or from your hand.

Suppose you are holding a basket full of popcorn. Now you drop it and what happens? The content, popcorn or the kernels, flows from the basket and are spilled across the floor. Mess is made when you spill something.

Take care; don't spill/drop the fries.

Take care; don't drop/spill the popcorn

Take care; don't drop the burger (burger is burger, it includes all the contents: patty, buns, sauce, tomato, onion, cheese, etc..)

Take care; don't let the burger fall apart.(I mean some pieces or inner content of it...maybe, some onion or sauce or anything that is 'inside' it).

From Telegraph:

...how to eat a burger without spilling the contents all over the table or down themselves.

I don't think any answer here would give a definite answer. But "drop" and "spill" are the most common verbs to define what you are looking for.

Like I said in my comment: the beauty of the English language is that you are not restricted to use only one word or one type of sentence to form your sentences.

Link to check:

Drop and Spill

  • 1
    @zondo Don't drop your biscuit. The beauty of the English language is that you are not restricted to forming your sentence by using only one word. :)
    – Usernew
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:22
  • 1
    Spill or spoil in last sentence? Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 2:41

Don't spill your milk.

There is probably more emphasis on milk than other liquids due to the old saying

There's no use crying over spilt milk.

As for food (solids), children are sometimes admonished with (in the same vain as spilt milk)

Eat nicely and don't make a mess!
Keep the food on the plate!

Don't play with your food!
Don't throw your food! ( for children at a certain stage )
If your food drops on the floor, the dog will eat it and you won't have any.

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