What are the differences between "scream", "shout" and "yell"?

My first impression from Webster's definitions was that "shouting" is more like uttering loudly something meaningful (like "Crowds shouted slogans during the protest") while "screaming" is more like uttering loudly something more emotional than anything meaningful and, therefore, often doing it sharply or in harsh high tones (like "The crowd screamed with excitement"). But then I checked the definition of "yell" and got totally confused.

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    What in the definition of yell made you uncertain about those other two? – loonquawl Aug 1 '18 at 4:56
  • @bukwyrm - It was the fact that - coming from examples in Webster - I found "yell" to be suitable both for those cases, in which "shout" would most likely be used, and for those, in which "scream" would be used. It didn't make me any uncertain about those other two, but I found myself totally incapable of determining the special niche for "yell". – brilliant Aug 1 '18 at 13:54
  • Screaming is without volume control - just at the top of your lungs - it's also possibly unhinged, while someone yelling is still in control of her voice. – loonquawl Aug 1 '18 at 14:17

None of the words need necessarily be about voicing speech (words).

Shout is about loudness. "Keep your voice low, don't shout!"

ety.: ← schowten "to call or cry out loudly,"

Scream is essentially about pitch, with probably an intent to scare, to raise an alarm or to alert.

ety.: ← Old Norse skræma (“to terrify; scare”); compare Dutch schremen (“to shout; yell; cry”), Swedish skrämma (“to spook; frighten”),

Yell is more often found in informal use. It may often be characterized by both loudness and high-pitch at the same time. However, etymologically, it comes from "to call" and no more.

ety.: ← extended form of root of Old English galan "to sing" (source of the -gale in nightingale); from PIE root *ghel- (1) "to call."

Note the interesting reference to -gale in nightingale. The deep PIE root merely means "to call". (So not necessarily loud or high-pitched?)

True, there's been a lot of obfuscation of meanings today and the words are sometimes used interchangeably, what with even dictionaries giving overlapping definitions.

For more, holler at me.

  • 1
    I had never thought about "scream" being related to pitch before. Your references don't say that but it is confirmed by "1 a (1) : to voice a sudden sharp loud cry (2) : to produce harsh high tones" M-W. Although another definition (same source) relates it more to the emotion/cause: "2 a : to speak or write with intense or hysterical emotion" (which was my first thought) – user184130 Aug 1 '18 at 13:44
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    I would only use 'shout' if the person uttered a word. A scream is an inarticulate cry. A yell could be either. – Kate Bunting Aug 1 '18 at 17:01
  • @KateBunting "call or cry," to include both. Inarticulate is used incorrectly, check back. – Kris Aug 2 '18 at 6:45
  • @Kris What do you mean, incorrectly? I meant that a scream is a shrill noise that someone utters from fear or surprise. I suppose you could describe someone as screaming out a word, but I think of it primarily as just a noise. – Kate Bunting Aug 3 '18 at 12:13
  • @Kate Bunting "to scream for help" is a usual expression and involves the articulation of words (eg "Help me!"), thus a scream is not always inarticulate. – Alan Evangelista Aug 20 at 23:14

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