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  1. one of the thin, narrow, shaped pieces of wood that form the sides of a cask, tub, or similar vessel.
  2. a stick, rod, pole, or the like.
  3. a rung of a ladder, chair, etc.
  4. Prosody.
    1. a verse or stanza of a poem or song.
    2. the alliterating sound in a line of verse, as the w-sound in wind in the willows.
  5. Music. staff1(def 10).
verb (used with object), staved or stove, stav·ing.
  1. to break in a stave or staves of (a cask or barrel) so as to release the wine, liquor, or other contents.
  2. to release (wine, liquor, etc.) by breaking the cask or barrel.
  3. to break or crush (something) inward (often followed by in).
  4. to break (a hole) in, especially in the hull of a boat.
  5. to break to pieces; splinter; smash.
  6. to furnish with a stave or staves.
  7. to beat with a stave or staff.
verb (used without object), staved or stove, stav·ing.
  1. to become staved in, as a boat; break in or up.
  2. to move along rapidly.
Verb Phrases
  1. stave off,
    1. to put, ward, or keep off, as by force or evasion.
    2. to prevent in time; forestall: He wasn't able to stave off bankruptcy.

Origin of stave

1125–75; (noun) Middle English, back formation from staves; (v.) derivative of the noun
Related formsun·staved, adjective

Synonyms for stave

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4. See verse. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for stave

Contemporary Examples of stave

Historical Examples of stave

  • Here is Arnold of Sowley will troll as good a stave as any man in the Company.

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Somehow, he had hoped that his father and his friends might have been able to stave off ruin.

  • And she remembered her own passionate attempts to stave off despair by work.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens

  • If I could stave off poverty no real harm could come to my child.

  • Jack answered by a graceful flourish of his hands, and a stave of another song.

    Clare Avery

    Emily Sarah Holt

British Dictionary definitions for stave


  1. any one of a number of long strips of wood joined together to form a barrel, bucket, boat hull, etc
  2. any of various bars, slats, or rods, usually of wood, such as a rung of a ladder or a crosspiece bracing the legs of a chair
  3. any stick, staff, etc
  4. a stanza or verse of a poem
  5. music
    1. Britishan individual group of five lines and four spaces used in staff notation
    2. another word for staff 1 (def. 9)
verb staves, staving, staved or stove
  1. (often foll by in) to break or crush (the staves of a boat, barrel, etc) or (of the staves of a boat) to be broken or crushed
  2. (tr usually foll by in) to burst or force (a hole in something)
  3. (tr) to provide (a ladder, chair, etc) with a stave or staves
  4. (tr) Scot to sprain (a finger, toe, etc)

Word Origin for stave

C14: back formation from staves, plural of staff 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for stave

"piece of a barrel," 1750, back-formation from staves (late 14c.), plural of staff (cf. leaves/leaf), possibly from Old English, but not recorded there. The verb (to stave in, past tense stove) is 1590s, originally nautical, on notion of bashing in the staves of a cask and letting out the contents; stave off (1620s) is literally "keep off with a staff," as of dogs.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper