This question also has an answer here (in German):
Was genau ist ein Strom (Gewässer)?

What is the difference between Fluss and Strom, which both translate to river?

  • 1
    "Als Strom wird ein großer Fluss oder ein großes Fließgewässer bezeichnet, das ins Meer mündet. Zu den Charakteristika eines Stromes gehört, dass er mindestens eine Länge von 500 Kilometern hat und mehr als als 2.000 Kubikmeter Wasser pro Sekunde führt." (wissen.de/raetsel/…)
    – hellcode
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 12:35
  • "Als Strom wird in gehobener Umgangssprache ein großer Fluss bezeichnet, der ins offene Meer mündet. Als Kriterium wird eine Länge von mindestens 500 km und ein Einzugsgebiet von mindestens 100.000 km² angegeben." (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strom_(Gew%C3%A4sser))
    – hellcode
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 12:36
  • @hellcode Zwei gut bequellte Zitate reichen Dir nicht, um eine richtige Antwort zu schreiben? Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 14:49
  • 2
    To close voters: Note that the alleged duplicate is in German, and that we have a policy not to consider different-language questions duplicates of each other.
    – chirlu
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


The distinction is quite easy. In German, you usually say Fluss to any kind of river, so that’d be a proper translation. A small river is called a Bach, which in English is called a “stream”, mind you.

A Strom (“main stem”, “major river” and others in English; literally “current” or “stream”) however is a larger body of water, usually the main stream that leads to the open sea (unlike its tributaries).

Rivers like the Rhine, Ganges and Nile would be called a Strom in German, but it’s probably a hydrology term rather than a colloquial one (Wikipedia likes to differ). That being said, there are some criteria to determine when a Fluss is called a Strom (like the amount of water it conveys or it having an estuary).

  • 2
    The Rhine can be called Fluß, too, and this would be perfectly fine. It is true, though, that one would not call a very small river Strom. Then there are other differences: e g in poems you might more often find Strom than in colloquial speech. And then, both words have different and distinct meanings in other contexts, for example in electricity. Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 10:58
  • 1
    @MartinPeters: Like I said, you can say Fluss (with ss, not ß) to any Strom in German. It’s a good remark on poetry. And naturally, due to their properties of “flow”, there’s some overlap between hydrology and electricity, the former having been invented first.
    – dakab
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 11:04
  • @dakab Fluß is the pre-1996 spelling, still used by some people.
    – JDF
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 1:39
  • @JDF, I don’t need to be told, as I pointed that out myself—you need to tell the recipient of my comment. Anyhow, that spelling is blatantly wrong, and people who use it commit a spelling mistake, as »Fluß« is no alternative (i.e. tolerated) spelling.
    – dakab
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 9:17
  • @dakab It was directed to you. It is not “wrong” since the spelling reforms are not binding on the ordinary population. I happily write my “daß”s and “häßlich”, and indeed “Fluß”s with eszetts, no matter what some officious bureaucrats ordain.
    – JDF
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 14:33

While there is a pretty good agreement on what can be called Fluss and what must be called Bach (the latter is typically only valid if you can hop across it), there is no clear-cut distinction between a Fluss and a Strom.

Every larger body of flowing water can be called a Fluss (but not a Bach) but many would raise an eyebrow if you called them Strom. Nowadays — and especially for me — the distinction is typically only size: Somewhere between the size of the Isar in Munich (a Fluss) and the Inn and Danube in Passau (Strom) is where I would place the absolute lower boundary.

There is also, traditionally, the distinction that a Strom had to have some cultural significance for the people living around it, much like the Rhine has for most of western Germany. However, I personally find that argument a bad and neglectable one.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.