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They all mean to shine and they all start with g. But do they mean the same thing?

Acording to "Google Dictionary" (the one that appears when you search on Google).

glint: give out or reflect small flashes of light.

glitter: shine with a bright, shimmering, reflected light.

glisten: (of something wet or greasy) shine; glitter.

gleamed: shine brightly, esp. with reflected light.

glimmered: shine faintly with a wavering light.

Example sentence:

The city lights [...] at the distance like an ocean of stars.

Do all the verbs above fit the sentence? Or it would mean a different thing depending on which one I choose?

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  • Why not add glisten to the list?
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 10:51
  • Did you not find any differences? Is there a reason for which you need to choose one of these words? For example to say how somebody's eyes shine, describe a new car, some jewelery etc..
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 10:56
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA - I believe the differences would be hard to find in a dictionary (I checked, and it's not as easy as one might think). That said, I think the O.P. ought to post some definitions here and start the discussion off with some ideas of his own. It would show a good-faith effort of trying to solve the problem, and will save the first person who answers the question from having to copy and paste definitions as part of the answer, when really those ought to be part of the question.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 11:16
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    @Mari-LouA: I realize you and I are both saying the same thing. However, I've seen plenty of examples where a pointed question such as yours is misconstrued as being rude and unwelcoming rather than helpful, so I decided to elaborate on why your question is in fact fair, and would help improve the question. I think this is a good example of what could be a great question – if the O.P. took the time to craft it into one.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 11:37
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA - not at all, misconstrued being a very key word in my previous comment. Also, to janoChen - thanks for the update; now the question is getting much more interesting :^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 11:43

2 Answers 2

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Essentially, glint, glitter, and glimmer differ in the duration and pattern of the light. Glint would be a brief flash (eg the flash of a shiny stone as he light changes), glitter would be flashes coming from all across the object in a steady but random sequence (eg diamond or the shiny dressing on a Christmas tree), glimmer is a steady shine from all over the object(eg a gold). Glisten and gleam have a slightly different quality to he light: glisten a wet, watery look, gleam is highly polished. Thus the glint from a ring would help you find it, a jewel would glitter, a polished gold or silver cup would glimmer, dew at dawn would glisten and a new car would gleam.

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I'd argue a polished gold cup would gleam rather than glimmer. With regard to the sentence "The city lights..." it would depend on the weather conditions which one of those adjectives you'd use. Were it foggy or misty, you'd choose glimmer. If the conditions were wet, you'd choose glisten, and if the conditions were clear and dry, the more appropriate choice would be gleam, because the lights look different depending on the state of the air around them.

In reality, the most commonly seen word used in that sentence would be twinkled.

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