Set in Stone, Carved in Stone or Written in Stone

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The idioms set in stone, carved in stone, and written in stone all denote the concept of something being fixed, unchangeable, and permanent

Idioms like these are metaphorical expressions that don’t have literal meanings in the combination of words used. They hold significance in the English language as they enhance the effectiveness of communication.

My quick guide deeply explores all three idioms, discussing their meanings, origins, variations, and uses in different contexts. So, if you want to know the subtle differences between these three phrases, this article will ensure everything is set in stone for you! Let’s get to it!

Set in Stone Carved in Stone or Written in Stone

What Is the Meaning of Set in Stone?

Set in stone means that something is final, unalterable, and can’t be changed. It gives a sense of permanency akin to literally engraving words in stone, which obviously can’t be erased or altered too easily.

This phrase is often used in contexts where decisions, plans, or statements are made with a strong sense of finality, like the ancient practices of inscribing important laws or commandments on stone tablets, as seen with the Biblical Ten Commandments.

But today, the phrase set in stone (or its similar versions) is used in various contexts. From simple house rules set by parents to strict dress codes at work, set in stone is another way of saying this is the way it is.

What Are the Literal and Figurative Meanings?

The literal meaning attached to the idiom set in stone is engraving words or designs directly onto a stone surface, creating a permanent record. We do this with gravestones, plaques, etc.

The more common figurative meaning turns it into the idiom in question and means something unchangeable and irrevocable. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as being very difficult or impossible to change. Similarly, Merriam-Webster defines it as being permanent or not able to be changed. So, I guess you could say this idiom’s definition is… set in stone!

Are There Variations of the Idiom?

You bet! Some popular variations include carved in stone and written in stone. These both carry a similar meaning but with slight nuances.

Carved in stone emphasizes the physical act of engraving, suggesting a deliberate and permanent action.

Written in stone might imply that although something’s recorded and intended to be permanent, it could potentially be less rigid than something carved in stone.

How Is the Idiom Used, and What Are Some Examples?

Set in stone (and its variations) is commonly used to express the unchangeability of a situation, which usually works in contexts involving plans, decisions, or statements.

What Are Different Ways of Using the Idiom in Context?

  1. Decision-making: The new schedule isn’t set in stone, so we can adjust it if you need time off. (figurative)
  2. Planning: Our destination is carved in stone because we’ve already booked the hotels and excursions. (figurative)
  3. Statements: The gravestone was ordered exactly to your specs; everything is written in the stone. (literal)

Are There Notable Examples of the Idiom in Movies, Books, or Media?

This idiom has found its way into various forms of media, reinforcing its relevance and applicability in different contexts.

“Set in Stone I” is the name of an album by artist Stevie Stone. You can also find the idiom used as the title of a novel by Linda Newberry.

It’s such a common expression that it’s also used in the media almost every day.

The numbers in Italy’s budget document announced on Thursday are not written in stone, an official of Italy’s ruling League party said on Friday. (Reuters)

He also said that because it’s a public job and the range — while not set in stone — was posted, “your negotiating hand is somewhat diminished.” (The Peoria Journal Star)

It also shouldn’t be rigidly carved in stone but should be adjusted wisely, in selected circumstances, with strong neighborhood input. (The North Platte Telegraph)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Set in Stone?

The idiom set in stone is believed to have biblical origins. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the words were literally engraved within the stone tablets handed to him. This literal engraving of rules into stone has come to symbolize permanence and immutability over centuries. 

However, the widespread adaptation of the phrase set in stone is also considered to have been influenced by the practice of inscribing gravestones with the names and details of the deceased. As these inscriptions are meant to endure, they further reinforce the idea of something being unchangeable or permanent, hence the idiom set in stone.

How Has the Idiom Evolved?

It’s likely the phrase first leaned heavily on its literal meaning. But as time went on and language evolved, it became the well-known metaphorical phrase we use today. Now, you can apply the idiom set in stone to any situation where something is immovable, even a person’s opinions.

What Are the Related Terms to this Idiom?

Understanding related terms will give you a broader context and more flexible usage of the idiom.

Set in Stone Carved in Stone or Written in Stone 1

What Are Some Synonyms?

  • Immutable
  • Irreversible
  • Solid
  • Unalterable
  • Etched in stone
  • Chiseled in stone
  • Frozen in time
  • Beyond change

What Are Related Terms and Phrases?

  • Cast in stone
  • Set in their ways
  • Cuneiform writing
  • Rock-solid
  • Cemented
  • Permanence
  • Decisiveness
  • Determination
  • Stability
  • Durability
  • Stone carving
  • Unyielding

What Are Some Antonyms?

  • Changeable
  • Flexible
  • Malleable
  • Mutable
Set in Stone, Carved in Stone or Written in Stone: Test Your Knowledge!

Set in Stone, Carved in Stone or Written in Stone: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

Which of the following is an antonym for set in stone?
What does set in stone mean?
Where did set in stone originate?
Start Over

Rock Solid 

The idioms set in stone, carved in stone, and written in stone all stir up a sense of permanency and unchangeability, drawing from ancient practices of engraving important information on stone surfaces.

By learning about the meaning, origin, and different uses for the idiom and its variations we went over in this guide, you should be all set (in stone!) to use the phrase freely! We’ve got plenty more idioms on our site to learn, so check them out!