I asked some people this question and I have got different answers. Some said to spill can only be used witlh liquids as in "when she knocked into me, I spilled my tea all over the floor", but some said it is acceptable to use it with small fragments and sticky substances as in "I forgot the banana in my bag and it spilled in it" and "do not spill the crumbs of the bread or bugs will be lured into your bed at night". The first group suggested using dropping rather than spilling for small fragments.

Do you think to spill can be used for sticky substances as in the banana example and small fragments such as bread crumbs, or is it always exclusively used for liquids?

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    The idiomatic expression 'spill the beans' would suggest that crumbs can also be 'spilled' (AmE) or 'spilt' (BrE). – Nigel J Jan 27 '18 at 14:06
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    'Spill' usually demands a fluid (broad definition, eg M-W, to include grain etc) subject or object referent. Breadcrumbs qualify; a single banana would not. There can be further broadening of both the transitive and intransitive usages (the lorry spilled its load; the boxes spilled onto the floor) when behaviour resembling that which a fluid might display is being described. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 27 '18 at 14:46
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    @WS2 I naturally say spilt rather than spilled, so I think I’d disagree with your statement in general; but even people who would normally say “I spilled some milk on the floor” would say that it’s no use crying over spilt milk, would they not? That just sounds wrong to me with spilled. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 27 '18 at 14:51
  • Please include the research you’ve done. Questions that can be definitively answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. Questions where reasonable research is not shown are not considered good according to site guidelines. Here, Macmillan's... – Edwin Ashworth Jan 27 '18 at 14:52
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    << spill 1 [transitive] to accidentally pour a liquid out of its container //(2) [intransitive/transitive] used about other substances and objects that fall out of a container, often not accidentally spill something out/over/onto etc: She lifted the box and spilled toys out all over the carpet. >> is obviously highly relevant – Edwin Ashworth Jan 27 '18 at 14:52

The main requirement for spilling something is not that it be liquid, but that it first be in a container of some kind. A banana yogurt can spill in your backpack because it's in a container; a banana can't — the peel doesn't count as a container. If you eat crackers in bed, you drop crumbs or get crumbs all over the place, but you don't spill them unless you've first caught them, say, in a saucer.

A truck is also a container from which virtually anything can spill out because of a traffic accident: 40,000 pounds of avocados, thousands of eels, or a thousand books.


I don't much like "spill" in the banana example. I would not see that as idiomatic. However it would be perfectly possible to spill a bagful of bananas - but it would mean that the bananas actually came out of the bag and fell on the floor.

One can "spill" almost anything, but it is usually multiple items that fall out of their container. Having said that sometimes a player attempting to catch a ball in rugby, or in cricket will "spill the ball". It means they get their hands on it but cannot hold it.

"Spill" is also used metaphorically for things like "a story", "ideas" etc. It simply means to speak up and reveal something.


i wouldn’t necessarily say something spilled must be in a container. The items must be gathered together and contained or held back in some fashion, and then spilled out. I can spill crumbs on the floor while carrying them in my hand; I can spill out my secrets after holding them back. But to your question, “Does spill apply to liquids only?”, absolutely not.

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