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I was doing some online tests that are supposed to be useful for the TOEFL and I was confused (although I gave a correct answer) with the following multiple-choice question:

The meteorologists say we're likely to have a _____ winter.

Given answers are: calm, soft, mild, smooth.

The right answer was MILD but however long I searched the web and dictionaries, I couldn't find the difference between soft and mild speaking of weather. I saw both soft weather and mild weather as well as winter in particular.

Question:

Weather-wise, what is the difference between soft and mild?

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1  
"Mild" is more idiomatic. And the word "mild" conveys a sense of "moderate" which the other terms don't. – Hot Licks Jan 17 at 14:11
4  
I've never heard of winter being qualified as calm, smooth, or soft. Even if this were posted on English Language Learners, I think it would probably still be Off Topic (General Reference). – FumbleFingers Jan 17 at 14:15
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In my opinion it is equally ok to say calm. Mild and calm have different meanings that are applicable to a season. – michael_timofeev Jan 17 at 14:20
    
@michael_timofeev For me 'calm' is always associated with something making little or no noise. Like 'calm person' or the weather may be calm as the opposite to being stormy. – user151486 Jan 17 at 14:22
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The more usual collocation is "a calm winter day". We don't normally describe the entire winter as being calm, and the Ngram corpus reveals it's the following expression, soft winter wheat, which is being picked up on. – Mari-Lou A Jan 17 at 16:23

Adding to Josh61's great answer, the adjective soft is more idiomatic when we describe rain, snow and wind as an antonym of strong and heavy. According to Oxford Online Dictionary it means:

Not strong or violent: 'a soft breeze rustled the trees'

Rain and snow could be heavy and wind could be strong or violent respectively. However, winter generally can't be heavy or strong and that's why soft winter is not as idiomatic as soft rain, soft snow or soft wind.

If the meteorologists are forecasting weather for a region known for frequent violent winter storms, calm winter would mean winter without as many frequent winter storms. But, generally speaking mild or warm is more idiomatic when describing winter weather which is warmer than previous years.

As commented below, light and gentle are also broadly used for rain and wind.

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Great! If you don't mind my asking. I know there are hot/ cold/ sunny/ wet/ nice/ fine weather but when we want to refer to weather that is neither cold nor hot, can mild be applicable to this weather or there is a better word? – haha Jan 17 at 16:54
    
@haha Of course I don't mind. Describing weather is tricky in English as there are many confusing adjectives as in the OP's question, but one thing for sure is you don't use soft, clam or smooth for temperature. You could use mild (relatively warm form winter, relatively cool for summer). But I think warm or cool would be a better adjective to describe relatively mild condition for winter or summer. – Rathony Jan 17 at 17:02
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What if I want to refer to climate? It seems to me warm and cool wouldn't be applicable here, would they? – haha Jan 17 at 17:15
    
@haha That would be 10 upvote question. Please write a question. :-) – Rathony Jan 17 at 17:16
    
thanks. All right. – haha Jan 17 at 17:27

Ngram: mild, soft, smooth, calm winter.

Mild is the more appropriate term, it is often used to refer to weather conditions:

  • (Of weather) moderately warm, especially less cold than expected: mild winters (ODO)
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Mild is correct ...

In parts of Scotland, if you hear the word "soft" connected to weather, as in "it's a soft day today", put your raincoat on. And a waterproof hat. And wellington boots. You're certain to need them! Or stay inside and find a good book...

It's a regional thing, and might be the same in Ireland.

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I have heard the Irish refer to 'soft rain' or a 'soft day', the former with the kind of fine drizzle that gets everywhere, and the latter to a calm, quiet, mild day (wet or dry). But I don't think it would be a suitable way to describe a whole winter. – Mynamite Jan 17 at 16:48

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