Referring to watersheds here, not sexual orientation.

I discovered the word berm for the first time yesterday. This leads me to believe that it is more common in US English than in British (and related nations') English.

I am familiar with the term dyke - originally from Dutch, using which they segment sections of fields and buildings to protect against flooding in the lowlands of Holland, often below sea level.

I also know the term levee - a primarily US term (Southern, French) for a watershed that specifically keeps a river in check, I believe.

Structurally, they appear very similar. Is a berm much the same, or is there a subtle difference in connotation? The only difference I can see is that definitions for berm tend to focus more on the flat section thereof... yet it is also used to describe the entire raised, ridgelike structure.

Are these terms just coincidental occurrences that originated in different geographical locations? Does English need all three?

  • 2
    A dyke and a levee are both walls to keep out water. It appears that levee is associated only with rivers while dyke can also apply to the sea. A berm isn't necessarily associated with damming water. It's just a raised area (mound or ledge) of dirt.
    – fixer1234
    Mar 2, 2017 at 7:04
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    The main distinguishing feature of a levee is that when it breaks, you'll have no place to stay. Mar 2, 2017 at 7:20
  • A berm can be a landscape shape unrelated to water, like a little decorative hill in your yard. Mar 2, 2017 at 19:37
  • Note that dyke can refer to a ditch (in a sense the opposite of a levee) and of course it can be a natural rock formation :-). Jan 25, 2018 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


Levees protect land that would normally be dry from flooding. Dikes protect land that would normally be under water from flooding. Dikes are most often associated with the sea and areas of land below sea level, Levees are most often associated with rivers.

A berm is similar in structure but not used for flood protection

Note that for most applications outside of civil engineering Dike and Levee are used interchangeably, and which is used would more likely depend on the speaker/writer's geographic location or upbringing.. e.g. people raised along river flood-planes are more likely to use Levee, and people from areas such as the Netherlands are more likely to use Dike.

References: https://kids.britannica.com/students/article/levee-and-dike/274006 https://hinative.com/en-US/questions/324854 https://wocatpedia.net/wiki/Dikes,_dams,_levees

  • Welcome to ELU, please edit your answer to include some sources (if you have any).
    – JJJ
    Aug 3, 2018 at 1:12
  • 1
    Sheesh and here I'd think a Dutch last name would be enough.. ;-) Aug 28, 2018 at 19:48
  • Sure, but then the American first name counters that. ;)
    – JJJ
    Aug 28, 2018 at 19:50
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    well spotted.. in any event I dug out a few references Aug 28, 2018 at 19:54
  • 1
    Yep a dam is normally Across a watercourse, with water on both sides.. Levee runs alongside the river/stream etc, dike most commonly along ocean/sea Aug 28, 2018 at 20:04

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