Difference between River and Stream

Updated on October 18, 2016

We need to face it. We are not as connected to the great outdoors as past generations have been. While they were well versed in more natural things, we are of a more urban inclination as “smart” generations. Even so, knowing as much as we can about the planet we still live on is important for any self-respecting human being. So let’s get down to business. Do you know what is the difference between a river and a stream?


The Loboc River in Bohol, Philippines

A river is a naturally formed body of water that flows on a course. The water collected in a river usually comes from precipitation at a higher altitude. It is then taken from that place towards another river, a lake, a sea or the ocean. The river’s shape is defined by its waterbeds. Its volume can vary at places according to the shape of its riverbeds, and it can also vary in volume according to the season – water is more abundant when ice and snow is melting and less abundant during the summer drought.

A mountain stream

A stream is a flowing body of water. They connect other bodies of water and are a water source for creatures living in their vicinity. Their shape is determined by their riverbeds and bends. They usually have a fast current, often determined by their descent from higher grounds. The volume of water contained by a stream in one year may vary. This explains the terms of intermittent stream, which has water most of the year, and ephemeral stream, which has water only immediately after precipitations.

River vs Stream

So what is the difference between a river and a stream?

Both rivers and streams are flowing bodies of water. They connect other bodies of water. Both their volumes throughout a year depend on the amount of precipitation.

The difference between them depends solely on the size. While by definition they are the same, in reality, the river is a bigger body of water. A stream is smaller and it even allows you to walk across it. What is more, the river is a collection of streams, whereas the stream is a single flowing body of water.

Comparison Chart

A large flowing body of waterA smaller flowing body of water
Very large and deepCan be crossed by foot
Is formed of several streamsFlows into a river
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