Want to know the difference between a stream and a river?

I love nature. I'm also anal-retentive. Did you ever wonder... what's the difference between a stream, a brook, and a river? Well if you have a life, probably not. I luckily, do not. In fact, I have so little of a life, I've even come up with all the definitions of all those different nature terms.


Waterway - Any narrow pathway of water that is constantly moving.

Seaway - A salt-water waterway.

Brook - A very small natural waterway, smaller than a stream.

Stream - A small natural waterway, larger than a brook, but smaller than a creek.

Creek - A medium natural waterway, larger than a stream. Often a tributary to a river.

River - A natural stream of water of considerable volume. Larger than all other waterways.

Canal - An artificial waterway, used for navigation, draining, or irrigating land.

Wash - a shallow creek or the dry bed of a waterway.

Branch - A waterway that flows into another, usually larger, waterway.

Tributary - A waterway (larger than a branch) that flows into another, usually larger, waterway.

Distributary - A waterway branch flowing away from the main stream of the waterway.

Anabranch - A diverging branch of a waterway which re-enters the main stream.

Sections of Waterways

Bed - The bottom of a waterway.

Head - The source of a waterway. Usually a marsh area with springs.

Mouth - The place where a waterway enters another waterway.

Fork - A place where a waterway branches into two or more new waterways.

Delta - An alluvial deposit, usually at the mouth of a waterway, often in the shape of the Greek letter "delta" because of multiple forks. They are formed where a water way drops any debris it was carrying on a body of quieter water.

Rapids - A section of a waterway where the current is fast and the surface is broken by obstructions, usually rocks.

Riffles - A shallow, turbulent portion of a waterway.

Rift - A very shallow section of a waterway.

Falls - A steep descent in a waterway, usually caused by large rocks, where the water drops rapidly.

Dike - A man made bank usually of earth constructed to control or confine water.

Bank - The sides of a river. Banks are called right or left as viewed facing in the direction of the flow.

Basin - A land area having a common outlet for its surface water runoff.

Estuary - Where the mouth of a fresh waterway empties into a body of salt water.

Lock - A man made chamber a waterway closed off using gates in order to raise or lower the water level so ships can move from one elevation to another along the waterway.

Bodies of Water

Pool - A small and often deep body of usually fresh water.

Lagoon - A shallow sound channel or pond near or communicating with a larger body of water.

Well - An issue of water from the earth. Often man made.

Spring - A source of water issuing from the ground. Usually creating a waterway, or body of water.

Pond - A body of water smaller than a lake, but much larger than a puddle. Usually spring fed.

Lake - A considerable inland body of standing water. Larger than a pond.

Sea - A great body of salt water of second rank more or less landlocked.

Ocean - The largest body of salt water. There are only 4 on Earth.

Ford - A shallow part of a body of water that can be crossed through by wading.


Bay - An inlet of the sea or other body of water usually smaller than a gulf.

Sound - A long, relatively wide body of water, larger than a channel, connecting larger bodies of water.

Channel - A narrow body of water between two portions of lands.

Cove - A small sheltered inlet or bay.

Gulf - A part of the ocean or sea extending into the land.

Harbor - A part of a body of water protected and deep enough to furnish anchorage especially one with port facilities.

Haven - A harbor or port.

Port - A place where ships may ride secure from storms. Usually a harbor town or city where ships may take on or discharge cargo.

Fjord - A narrow inlet of sea between cliffs or steep slopes.

Bight - A bend in a coast forming an open bay.


Reef - A series of rocks or ridge of sand or coral, at or near the surface of the water.

Island - A tract of land totally surrounded by water and smaller than a continent.

Key - A low island or reef.


Bank - A mound pile or ridge raised above the surrounding level.

Shore - The land bordering a usually large body of water.

Beach - A shore of an ocean sea or lake or the bank of a river covered by sand or gravel or larger rock fragments.

Coast - The land near a shore.

Sands - A tract of sand a sandbak or sandbar.

Shoal - A sandbank or sandbar that makes the water shallow.

Spit - A small point of land especially of sand or gravel running into a body of water.


Peninsula - A portion of land nearly surrounded by water and connected with a larger body of water usually by an isthmus.

Cape - A point or extension of land jutting out into water as a penninsula or as a projecting point.

Point - A projecting usually tapered piece of land or sharp prominence.

Horn - A body of land or water shaped like a horn.


Neck - A narrow stretch of land.

Strait - A comparitively narrow passageway connecting two large bodies of water.


Bayou - Any of various usually marshy or sluggish bodies of water.

Swamp - Wet spongy land saturated and sometimes partially or intermittently covered with water.

Bog - An area of soft, naturally waterlogged ground.

Marsh - A tract of soft land usually characterized by grasses and cattails.

Moor - A boggy area of wasteland usually peaty and dominated by grasses and sedges.


Veldt - A grassland usually with scattered shrubs or trees.

Plain - An extensive area of rolling or level treeless country.

Grasslands - Land on which the natural dominant plant forms are grasses and forbs.

Meadow - A tract of low-lying usually level grassland.

Field - An open area free of woods or buildings.

Flats - A level surface of land.


Butte - An isolated hill or mountain with steep or percipitous sides usually having a smaller summit area than a mesa.

Bluff - A high steep bank.

Cliff - A very steep vertical slope or overhanging face of rock or ice.

Crag - A steep rugged rock or cliff.

Hill - A usually rounded natural elevation of land lower than a mountain.

Hillside - The part of a hill between the summit and the foot.

Knob - A rounded usually isolated hill or mountain.

Mesa - An isolated relatively flat-topped natural elevation usually more extensive than a butte and less extensive than a plateau.

Mountain - A landmass that projects conspicuously above its surroundings and is higher than a hill.

Outcrop - The part of a rock formation that appears at the surface of the ground.

Peak - The top of a hill or mountain ending in a point.

Ridge - A range of hills or mountains.

Rock - A large mass of stone forming a cliff promontory or peak.

Bridge - A structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.

Glacier - A large body of ice moving slowly down a slope or valley or spreading outward on a land surface.


Canyon - A deep narrow valley with steep sides and often with a stream flowing through it.

Basin - A large or small depression in the surface of the land or in the ocean floor.

Crater - A bowl-shaped depression around the orifice of a volcano or produced by the impact of a meteorite or an explosion.

Dale - A small valley or vale.

Ditch - A long narrow excavation dug in the earth.

Hole - A cave pit or well in the ground.

Valley - An elongate depression of the earth's surface usually between ranges of hills or mauntains.

Fumarole - A hole in a volcanic region from which hot gases and vapors issue.

Gap - A mountain pass.

Glen - A secluded narrow valley.

Gorge - A narrow passge through land especially a narrow steep-walled canyon or part of a canyon.

Hollow - A small valley or basin.

Pass - A low place in a mountain range.

Rift Valley - An elongated valley formed by the depression of a block of the earth's crust between two faults or groups of faults of approximately parallel strike.


Cave - A natural underground chamber or series of chambers open to the surface.

Cavern - A cave of large or indefinite extent.


Forest - A dense grove of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.

Grove - A small wood without underbrush.

Wood - A dense grove of trees usually greater in extent than a grove and smaller than a forest.

Wilderness - A tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings.

Thicket - A dense growth of shrubbery or small trees.


Waste - A sparsely settled or barren region.

Desert - An arrid barren land.