Loch vs Lake: What are the Differences?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: June 8, 2022
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The world has a variety of ways to name the same things. In different parts of the world, different names show the depth of culture, the history of a region, and how people interpret the world around them! Today, we are going to be taking a look at one of the most common language knots around, the difference between a loch and a lake. Let’s discover the differences if there are any to be had at all!

What is a loch and what is a lake?

Loch vs Lake: What are the Differences?

Loch is the Scottish-Gaelic word for a lake or sea inlet.


A loch is simply the Scottish, Gaelic, and Irish word for a lake or a sea inlet, while the word lake is English in origin.

The difference between a loch and a lake is one of location. Scottish people refer to large inland bodies of water as “lochs,” while the rest of the English-speaking world refers to them as lakes. As a general rule, these two words could be used interchangeably as they have almost the same meaning.

Between the two, however, loch is a broader term that could be used more generally. Lochs are often used to describe large inland bodies of water, as well as sea inlets. For most English speakers, saltwater access to the ocean isn’t something that a lake would ever have. For Scots, however, a loch could be a large inlet that is connected to the ocean and is entirely saltwater. When a loch is salt water, it is often referred to as a “sea loch.”

Who uses the word loch?

Loch Raven Reservoir Maryland

Loch is commonly used in Scotland.

©iStock.com/Jon Bilous

The word “loch” is commonly used in the northern part of Britain, commonly referred to as Scotland. Additionally, anyone with Scottish or Gaelic roots is predisposed to use the word loch. The Irish, with their national language being Gaelic, also use the word loch. Additionally, the word is used as a primary marker for anyone who is “truly” part of the local culture. This shibboleth is quite important to many people in the region.

Since the word loch is a bit broader of a term than lake, it is occasionally used in other parts of the world, with a deferential nod to the Scots. In Hawaii, for example, the military has named many of the sea inlets around Pearl Harbor using “loch.” The West Loch and Pearl Loch are primary examples of this usage.

Where did the word loch come from?

The word loch has its origins in the ancient Gaelic language, likely around the 14th century CE. Even before the Celts had established Gaelic as a developed language, however, the word *lókus, derived from Proto-Indo-European languages, was likely to root. *lókus originally meant pond or pool, and is also the ancient root of the Latin word lacus.

What other words can be used in reference to lochs?

In addition to the word loch, other additions or substitutions are often used. Sea inlets that are saltwater are most commonly referred to as sea lochs or even sea loughs. When a body of water is extremely large and a direct extension of the ocean, it is often referred to as a firth. Firths and fjords are extremely similar in meaning and coincide with common American terms like estuaries, straits, or even bays.

What are the most famous lochs in Scotland?

Loch vs Lake: What are the Differences?

Loch Ness is the largest loch in Scotland by a large margin.


Scotland is full of lochs, most being carved by deep glaciers that receded at the end of the last ice age. Let’s go over a few of the most famous and more interesting lochs in the region.

Loch Ness

Without a doubt, Loch Ness is the most famous loch in the world, let alone in Scotland. Loch Ness is the largest body of water in all of England by a massive margin. Every other freshwater body in England and Wales combined couldn’t fill the volume of Loch Ness. Aside from its size, it is the famous home of the most famous cryptic beast in the world, the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie, as it’s named, wouldn’t have too much of a problem finding a home within the deep recesses of the cold waters.

Loch Coruisk

Located on the Isle of Skye, Loch Coruisk is one of the most scenic places in the region and the source material for the famous poem, Loch Coruisk, as written by Sir Walter Scott. After the poem was released, people flocked to the region to take photos. Still, it’s a haunting and solitary place.

Loch Shiel

For any Harry Potter fans out there, Loch Shiel is easily identifiable. The Glenfinnan viaduct is just to the north of Loch Shiel and marks the place where the Jacobite Express train crosses the rivers. Four of the movies used that viaduct to show the Hogwartz Express on the way to Hogwartz proper!

Loch Morar

The deepest waters in the British Isles can be found at Loch Morar. Loch Morar isn’t just deep; it’s also home to the second most famous monster in the region (behind Nessie). Morag is a famous sea monster that purportedly lives in the deep waters of Loch Morar.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/RyanDeanMorrison

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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