Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Floe and Flow

‘Floe’ and ‘flow’ might be confused in conversation. They are pronounced exactly the same way, so someone listening might confuse the word ‘floe’ with the more commonly used ‘flow’. However, their meanings are different enough that it shouldn’t be difficult for someone to figure out which one the speaker means.

‘Flow’ is the one used more often, since it can apply to a variety of things. It is also both a verb and a noun. The overall meaning is a motion or thing that is continuous.

As a noun, it most often means how a fluid, both literal and figurative, moves. Literally, it means liquids and gases.

“The river had a calm flow at this place, where there were no rocks.”

It can also refer to the amount of a moving fluid, or the rate in which it is moving.

“We called a plumber in to look at the sink, because there is no flow when we turn the taps.”

In figurative terms, some of the most common things are words and the ability to focus on a task. When it is used figuratively, it usually means that it is smooth and consistent.

“The prose had a good flow, with each sentence smoothly leading into the next.”

“She let loose a long, steady flow of curses.”

In the second sentence, the word ‘flow’ can also be replaced with ‘stream’.

There are also a few other defined uses. When talking about the tide, ‘flow’ is the term for when the tide comes in and ‘ebb’ is when it goes out. In psychology, it means a state of intense focus and enjoyment of the activity at hand. Finally, it can refer to the blood discharged during menstruation.

As a verb, it does often mean the action of a liquid moving.

“The tears flowed from my eyes.”

Once again, ‘flow’ can be used figuratively. When it is, it normally means something moving either continuously or at a steady rate from one place to another, in one direction.

“The money was flowing out of his savings account each month.” 

It can also mean something loose and waving, such as long hair when it is down. This is what the phrase ‘flowing locks’ refers to, since hair can sometimes look fluid.

‘Floe’, on the other hand, is the word for a floating slab of ice, unconnected to a main body of land, which usually has a flat surface that is close to the water. It is usually called an ice floe, but sometimes just a floe. The reason it’s specified that it’s an ice floe is because the word ‘floe’ is a loanword, and the original word meant ‘slab’. The word is pretty much limited to that definition and it is not often used metaphorically.

Sometimes, people will write down ‘ice flow’. This is a mistake, probably made by someone who heard ‘floe’ and didn’t know it was spelled differently from ‘flow’. In any event, ice cannot flow. It can be carried by the flow of a river, but it cannot flow because it is a solid state.

Another possible reason the two might be confused in writing is because the E key is right next to the W key on a keyboard. If someone accidentally hit one key or the other, then spellcheck might not catch it, because it often does not catch errors when the word is an accepted word in the dictionary.

In summary, the word ‘flow’ is used in a variety of ways, both as verb and noun, both figuratively and literally, to describe something continuous. ‘Floe’ means a floating slab of ice. Because they are homonyms, there is a problem where people spell the word ‘flow’ when they mean ‘floe’.


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