# Float vs. Flow — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on November 6, 2023
Float refers to resting on the surface of a liquid; flow describes the movement of a fluid or the smooth continuity of an element.

## Key Differences

Float involves an object being buoyant, staying atop a fluid without sinking. Flow describes the movement of a liquid or gas, typically in a steady stream.
The act of floating is dependent on the object's density relative to the fluid, whereas flow is a characteristic of the fluid itself, dependent on factors like pressure and viscosity.
To float is often a passive state, while to flow implies active movement; objects float, but fluids flow.
The term float can also be used in financial contexts, referring to the amount of currency available for trade. Flow, however, can describe the transfer of not just liquids but also of less tangible things like electricity or ideas.
In computing, float is a term for a data type in programming that represents a number with a fractional part. In contrast, flow can refer to the execution sequence of operations in a program.

## Comparison Chart

### Definition

Buoyancy on a liquid's surface.
Movement of a fluid or seamless continuation.

### Physical State

Static, not necessarily moving.
Dynamic, involving motion.

### Contexts

Can refer to financial terms or data types.
Also used for non-liquid concepts (e.g., workflow).

### In Computing

Represents decimal numbers in programming.
Describes a process's progression in programming.

### In Literature

Can symbolize ease or tranquility.
Often symbolizes change or the passage of time.

## Compare with Definitions

#### Float

A soft drink with ice cream floating on top.
She ordered a root beer float.

#### Flow

The transfer of electricity or energy.
Current flow is critical in circuit design.

#### Float

In finance, the time between a transaction and clearance.
The check will float for a few days.

#### Flow

To move or run smoothly with unbroken continuity, as in the manner characteristic of a fluid.

#### Float

To remain suspended within or on the surface of a fluid without sinking.

#### Flow

To issue in a stream; pour forth
Sap flowed from the gash in the tree.

#### Float

To be suspended in or move through space as if supported by a liquid.

#### Flow

To circulate, as the blood in the body.

#### Float

To move from place to place, especially at random.

#### Flow

To move with a continual shifting of component particles
Wheat flowing into the bin.
Traffic flowing through the tunnel.

#### Float

To move easily or lightly
"Miss Golightly ... floated round in their arms light as a scarf" (Truman Capote).

#### Flow

To proceed steadily and easily
The preparations flowed smoothly.

#### Float

(Economics) To rise or fall freely in response to the market
Allowed the dollar to float.
A loan whose interest rate floats with the prime rate.

#### Flow

To exhibit a smooth or graceful continuity
The poem's cadence flowed gracefully.

#### Float

To cause to remain suspended without sinking or falling.

#### Flow

To hang loosely and gracefully
The cape flowed from his shoulders.

#### Float

To put into the water; launch
Float a ship.
Float a navy.

#### Flow

To rise. Used of the tide.

#### Float

To start or establish (a business enterprise, for example).

#### Flow

To arise; derive
Many conclusions flow from this hypothesis.

#### Float

To flood (land), as for irrigation.

#### Flow

To be abundant; teem
Coffers flowing with treasure.
Wine flowing at the celebration.

#### Float

(Economics) To allow (the exchange value of a currency, for example) to rise or fall freely in response to the market
Inflation forced the government to float the currency.

#### Flow

To move from one place to another in large numbers
Contributions flowed in from all parts of the country.

#### Float

To offer for consideration; suggest
Floated my idea to the committee.

To menstruate.

#### Float

To release (a security) for sale.

#### Flow

To undergo plastic deformation without cracking or breaking. Used of rocks, metals, or minerals.

#### Float

To arrange for (a loan).

#### Flow

To release as a flow
Trees flowing thin sap.

#### Float

To make the surface of (plaster, for example) level or smooth.

#### Flow

To cause to flow
"One of the real keys to success is developing a system where you can flow traffic to yourselves" (Marc Klee).

#### Float

(Computers) To convert (data) from fixed-point notation to floating-point notation.

#### Flow

The act of flowing.

A raft.

#### Flow

The smooth motion characteristic of fluids.

A buoy.

#### Flow

A stream or current.

#### Float

A life preserver.

#### Flow

A flood or overflow.

#### Float

A buoyant object, such as a piece of cork or a plastic ball, used to hold a net or part of a fishing line afloat.

#### Flow

A residual mass that has stopped flowing
A hardened lava flow.

#### Float

A landing platform attached to a wharf and floating on the water.

#### Flow

A continuous output or outpouring
A flow of ideas.
Produced a steady flow of stories.

#### Float

A floating ball attached to a lever to regulate the water level in a tank.

#### Flow

A continuous movement or circulation
The flow of traffic.
A flow of paperwork across his desk.

#### Float

(Biology) An air-filled sac or structure that aids in the flotation of an aquatic organism. Also called air bladder, air vesicle.

#### Flow

The amount that flows in a given period of time.

#### Float

A decorated exhibit or scene mounted on a mobile platform and pulled or driven in a parade.

#### Flow

The rising of the tide.

#### Float

The number of shares of a security that are publicly owned and traded.

#### Flow

Continuity and smoothness of appearance.

#### Float

A sum of money representing checks that are outstanding.

#### Flow

A general movement or tendency
A dissenter who went against the flow of opinion.

#### Float

The time between the issuing or depositing of a check and the debiting of the issuer's account.

#### Flow

The sequence in which operations are performed.

#### Float

The time during which a credit card purchase can be repaid without interest.

#### Flow

An apparent ease or effortlessness of performance
"An athlete must learn to forget the details of his or her training to achieve the instinctive sense of flow that characterizes a champion" (Frederick Turner).

#### Float

A tool for smoothing the surface of wet plaster or concrete.

#### Flow

Menstrual discharge.

#### Float

A file with sharp ridges used for cutting or smoothing wood.

#### Flow

Movement in people or things characterized with a continuous motion, involving either a non solid mass or a multitude.

#### Float

A soft drink with ice cream floating in it.

#### Flow

The movement of a real or figurative fluid.

#### Float

Excess time allowed for a task in a project schedule.

#### Flow

(math) A formalization of the idea of the motion of particles in a fluid, as a group action of the real numbers on a set.
The notion of flow is basic to the study of ordinary differential equations.

#### Float

To be supported by a fluid of greater density (than the object).
Helium balloons float in air, while air-filled balloons don't.

#### Flow

The rising movement of the tide.

#### Float

To be supported by a liquid of greater density, such that part (of the object or substance) remains above the surface.
The boat floated on the water.
The oil floated on the vinegar.

#### Flow

Smoothness or continuity.
The room was small, but it had good symmetry and flow.

#### Float

(transitive) To cause something to be suspended in a liquid of greater density.
To float a boat

#### Flow

The amount of a fluid that moves or the rate of fluid movement.
Turn on the valve and make sure you have sufficient flow.
Other devices measure water flow in streams fed by melted ice.

#### Float

(intransitive) To be capable of floating.
That boat doesn't float.
Oil floats on vinegar.

#### Flow

A flow pipe, carrying liquid away from a boiler or other central plant (compare with return pipe which returns fluid to central plant).

#### Float

(intransitive) To move in a particular direction with the liquid in which one is floating.
I’d love to just float downstream.

#### Flow

(psychology) A mental state characterized by concentration, focus and enjoyment of a given task.

#### Float

(intransitive) To drift or wander aimlessly.
I’m not sure where they went... they're floating around here somewhere.
Images from my childhood floated through my mind.

#### Flow

The emission of blood during menstruation.
Tampons can be small or large, slender or thick. From “slender” to “super”, you can pick the size that matches your flow.

#### Float

(intransitive) To drift gently through the air.
The balloon floated off into the distance.

#### Flow

The ability to skilfully rap along to a beat.
The production on his new mixtape is mediocre but his flow is on point.

#### Float

(intransitive) To move in a fluid manner.
The dancer floated gracefully around the stage.

#### Flow

(software) The sequence of steps taken in a piece of software to perform some action.
Search flow

#### Float

To circulate.
There's a rumour floating around the office that Jan is pregnant.

#### Flow

(Scotland) A morass or marsh.

#### Float

(aviation) To remain airborne, without touching down, for an excessive length of time during landing, due to excessive airspeed during the landing flare.

#### Flow

(intransitive) To move as a fluid from one position to another.
Rivers flow from springs and lakes.
Tears flow from the eyes.

#### Float

(of an idea or scheme) To be viable.
That's a daft idea... it'll never float.

#### Flow

(intransitive) To proceed; to issue forth.
Wealth flows from industry and economy.

#### Float

(transitive) To propose (an idea) for consideration.
I floated the idea of free ice-cream on Fridays, but no one was interested.

#### Flow

(intransitive) To move or match smoothly, gracefully, or continuously.
The writing is grammatically correct, but it just doesn't flow.

#### Float

(intransitive) To automatically adjust a parameter as related parameters change.

#### Flow

(intransitive) To have or be in abundance; to abound, so as to run or flow over.

#### Float

(of currencies) To have an exchange value determined by the markets, as opposed to by central fiat.
The yen floats against the dollar.

#### Flow

(intransitive) To hang loosely and wave.
A flowing mantle; flowing locks

#### Float

To allow (the exchange value of a currency) to be determined by the markets.
The government floated the pound in January.
Increased pressure on Thailand’s currency, the baht, in 1997 led to a crisis that forced the government to float the currency.

#### Flow

(intransitive) To rise, as the tide; opposed to ebb.
The tide flows twice in twenty-four hours.

#### Float

To extend a short-term loan to.
Could you float me \$50 until payday?

#### Flow

To arrange (text in a wordprocessor, etc.) so that it wraps neatly into a designated space; to reflow.

#### Float

To issue or sell shares in a company (or units in a trust) to members of the public, followed by listing on a stock exchange.

#### Flow

(transitive) To cover with water or other liquid; to overflow; to inundate; to flood.

#### Float

(transitive) To spread plaster over (a surface), using the tool called a float.

#### Flow

(transitive) To cover with varnish.

#### Float

(transitive) To use a float (rasp-like tool) upon.
It is time to float this horse's teeth.

#### Flow

(intransitive) To discharge excessive blood from the uterus.

#### Float

(transitive) To transport by float (vehicular trailer).

#### Flow

To move with a continual change of place among the particles or parts, as a fluid; to change place or circulate, as a liquid; as, rivers flow from springs and lakes; tears flow from the eyes.

#### Float

(poker) To perform a float.

#### Flow

To become liquid; to melt.
The mountains flowed down at thy presence.

#### Float

To cause (an element within a document) to float above or beside others.

#### Flow

To proceed; to issue forth; as, wealth flows from industry and economy.
Those thousand decencies that daily flowFrom all her words and actions.

#### Float

A buoyant device used to support something in water or another liquid.
Attach the float and the weight to the fishing line, above the hook.

#### Flow

To glide along smoothly, without harshness or asperties; as, a flowing period; flowing numbers; to sound smoothly to the ear; to be uttered easily.
Virgil is sweet and flowingin his hexameters.

#### Float

A mass of timber or boards fastened together, and conveyed down a stream by the current; a raft.

#### Flow

To have or be in abundance; to abound; to full, so as to run or flow over; to be copious.
In that day . . . the hills shall flow with milk.
The exhilaration of a night that needed not the influence of the flowing bowl.

A float board.

#### Flow

To hang loose and waving; as, a flowing mantle; flowing locks.
The imperial purple flowing in his train.

#### Float

A tool similar to a rasp, used in various trades.

#### Flow

To rise, as the tide; - opposed to ebb; as, the tide flows twice in twenty-four hours.
The river hath thrice flowed, no ebb between.

#### Float

A sort of trowel used for finishing concrete surfaces or smoothing plaster.
When pouring a new driveway, you can use a two-by-four as a float.

#### Flow

To discharge blood in excess from the uterus.

#### Float

An elaborately decorated trailer or vehicle, intended for display in a parade or pageant.
That float covered in roses is very pretty.

#### Flow

To cover with water or other liquid; to overflow; to inundate; to flood.

#### Float

A floating toy made of foam, used in swimming pools.

#### Flow

To cover with varnish.

#### Float

(British) A small vehicle used for local deliveries, especially in the term milk float.

#### Flow

A stream of water or other fluid; a current; as, a flow of water; a flow of blood.

#### Float

(finance) Funds committed to be paid but not yet paid.
Our bank does a nightly sweep of accounts, to adjust the float so we stay within our reserves limit.

#### Flow

A continuous movement of something abundant; as, a flow of words.

#### Float

An offering of shares in a company (or units in a trust) to members of the public, normally followed by a listing on a stock exchange.

#### Flow

Any gentle, gradual movement or procedure of thought, diction, music, or the like, resembling the quiet, steady movement of a river; a stream.
The feast of reason and the flow of soul.

#### Float

(banking) The total amount of checks/cheques or other drafts written against a bank account but not yet cleared and charged against the account.
No sir, your current float is not taken into account, when assets are legally garnished.

#### Flow

The tidal setting in of the water from the ocean to the shore. See Ebb and flow, under Ebb.

#### Float

(insurance) Premiums taken in but not yet paid out.
We make a lot of interest from our nightly float.

#### Flow

A low-lying piece of watery land; - called also flow moss and flow bog.

#### Float

(programming) A floating-point number, especially one that has lower precision than a double.
That routine should not have used an int; it should be a float.

#### Flow

The motion characteristic of fluids (liquids or gases)

#### Float

A soft beverage with a scoop of ice-cream floating in it.
I don't consider anything other than root-beer with vanilla ice-cream to be a "real" float.

#### Flow

The amount of fluid that flows in a given time

#### Float

A small sum of money put in a cashier's till, or otherwise secured, at the start of business, to enable change to be made.

#### Flow

The act of flowing or streaming; continuous progression

#### Float

(poker) A maneuver where a player calls on the flop or turn with a weak hand, with the intention of bluffing after a subsequent community card.

#### Flow

Any uninterrupted stream or discharge

#### Float

(knitting) One of the loose ends of yarn on an unfinished work.

#### Flow

Something that resembles a flowing stream in moving continuously;
A stream of people emptied from the terminal
The museum had planned carefully for the flow of visitors

#### Float

(automotive) A car carrier or car transporter truck or truck-and-trailer combination.

#### Flow

Dominant course (suggestive of running water) of successive events or ideas;
Two streams of development run through American history
Stream of consciousness
The flow of thought
The current of history

#### Float

(transport) A lowboy trailer.

#### Flow

The monthly discharge of blood from the uterus of nonpregnant women from puberty to menopause;
The women were sickly and subject to excessive menstruation
A woman does not take the gout unless her menses be stopped
The semen begins to appear in males and to be emitted at the same time of life that the catamenia begin to flow in females

#### Float

(obsolete) The act of flowing; flux; flow.

#### Flow

Move or progress freely as if in a stream;
The crowd flowed out of the stadium

#### Float

A polishing block used in marble working; a runner.

#### Flow

Move along, of liquids;
Water flowed into the cave
The Missouri feeds into the Mississippi

A coal cart.

#### Flow

Cause to flow;
The artist flowed the washes on the paper

#### Float

A breakdancing move in which the body is held parallel to the floor while balancing on one or both hands.

#### Flow

Be abundantly present;
The champagne flowed at the wedding

#### Float

(computing) A visual style on a web page that causes the styled elements to float above or beside others.

#### Flow

Fall or flow in a certain way;
This dress hangs well
Her long black hair flowed down her back

#### Float

(biology) The gas-filled sac, bag, or body of a siphonophore; a pneumatophore.

#### Flow

Cover or swamp with water

#### Float

Any object (element) whose location in composition (page makeup, pagination) does not flow within body text but rather floats outside of it, usually anchored loosely (in buoy metaphor) to spots within it (citations, callouts): a figure (image), table, box, pull quote, ornament, or other float element.

#### Flow

Undergo menstruation;
She started menstruating at the age of 11

#### Float

Anything which floats or rests on the surface of a fluid, as to sustain weight, or to indicate the height of the liquid surface, or mark the place of, something.
This reform bill . . . had been used as a float by the conservative ministry.

#### Flow

The movement of liquid in a steady stream.
Water flow in the river increases after the rain.

#### Float

A float board. See Float board (below).

#### Flow

To proceed smoothly and continuously.
Traffic needs to flow freely during rush hour.

#### Float

A contrivance for affording a copious stream of water to the heated surface of an object of large bulk, as an anvil or die.

#### Flow

A seamless, uninterrupted movement in dance or sports.
Her dance moves had a natural flow.

#### Float

The act of flowing; flux; flow.

#### Flow

The steady and continuous output or supply of something.
Ideas began to flow during the brainstorming session.

#### Float

A quantity of earth, eighteen feet square and one foot deep.

#### Float

The trowel or tool with which the floated coat of plastering is leveled and smoothed.

#### Float

A polishing block used in marble working; a runner.

#### Float

A single-cut file for smoothing; a tool used by shoemakers for rasping off pegs inside a shoe.

A coal cart.

#### Float

The free use of money for a time between occurrence of a transaction (such as depositing a check or a purchase made using a credit card), and the time when funds are withdrawn to cover the transaction; also, the money made available between transactions in that manner.

#### Float

A vehicle on which an exhibit or display is mounted, driven or pulled as part of a parade. The float often is based on a large flat platform, and may contain a very elaborate structure with a tableau or people.

#### Float

To rest on the surface of any fluid; to swim; to be buoyed up.
The ark no more now floats, but seems on ground.
Three blustering nights, borne by the southern blast,I floated.

#### Float

To move quietly or gently on the water, as a raft; to drift along; to move or glide without effort or impulse on the surface of a fluid, or through the air.
They stretch their broad plumes and float upon the wind.
There seems a floating whisper on the hills.

#### Float

To cause to float; to cause to rest or move on the surface of a fluid; as, the tide floated the ship into the harbor.
Had floated that bell on the Inchcape rock.

#### Float

To flood; to overflow; to cover with water.
Proud Pactolus floats the fruitful lands.

#### Float

To pass over and level the surface of with a float while the plastering is kept wet.

#### Float

To support and sustain the credit of, as a commercial scheme or a joint-stock company, so as to enable it to go into, or continue in, operation.

#### Float

The time interval between the deposit of a check in a bank and its payment

#### Float

The number of shares outstanding and available for trading by the public

#### Float

A drink with ice cream floating in it

#### Float

An elaborate display mounted on a platform carried by a truck (or pulled by a truck) in a procession or parade

#### Float

A hand tool with a flat face used for smoothing and finishing the surface of plaster or cement or stucco

#### Float

Something that remains on the surface of a liquid

#### Float

Be in motion due to some air or water current;
The leaves were blowing in the wind
The boat drifted on the lake
The sailboat was adrift on the open sea
The shipwrecked boat drifted away from the shore

#### Float

Be afloat; stay on a liquid surface; not sink

#### Float

Set afloat;
He floated the logs down the river
The boy floated his toy boat on the pond

#### Float

Circulate or discuss tentatively; test the waters with;
The Republicans are floating the idea of a tax reform

#### Float

Move lightly, as if suspended;
The dancer floated across the stage

#### Float

Put into the water;
Float a ship

#### Float

Make the surface of level or smooth;
Float the plaster

#### Float

Allow (currencies) to fluctuate;
The government floated the ruble for a few months

#### Float

Convert from a fixed point notation to a floating point notation;
Float data

#### Float

A state where an object rests on a fluid surface.
The boat will float if it's not overloaded.

#### Float

To move slowly on water or in the air.
Leaves float down the river.

#### Float

A parade vehicle decorated for a festive display.
The floral float impressed the crowd.

## Common Curiosities

#### Can objects float in a vacuum?

In a vacuum, objects don't float; they remain where they are placed due to a lack of gravity.

#### Is flow always visible?

No, flow can be invisible, like air moving in a room.

#### Does flow only refer to water?

No, flow can refer to any fluid, including gases and granular flow.

#### What influences water flow?

Gravity, pressure differences, and obstacles affect water flow.

#### Can gases float like solids can?

Gases can be buoyant but do not float on liquids like solids.

#### Are things that float always on water?

No, objects can float on any liquid, and even in the air or space.

#### Do objects float better in saltwater?

Yes, higher salinity increases water density, improving buoyancy.

#### Can float refer to financial terms?

Yes, float can mean the time between a cheque being written and cleared.

#### Can flow be controlled?

Yes, the flow of fluids can be controlled using valves, gates, etc.

#### Can floating indicate stability?

Yes, if an object floats without tipping, it's considered stable.

#### What does 'going with the flow' mean?

It means to adapt to circumstances as they come, without resistance.

#### How do you measure flow rate?

Flow rate is measured by volume per unit of time, like liters per second.

#### Can floating be a leisure activity?

Yes, floating in pools or lakes can be relaxing and recreational.

#### Is flow used in business contexts?

Yes, cash flow and workflow are common business terms.

#### Does ice float in alcohol?

Ice may not float in alcohol due to density differences.

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