I am translating from Russian to English, and came across the phrase "На краю долины на вершине лысого холма стоит [...]" - trying to describe a hill at the edge of a valley. I've never come across "bald hill" anywhere in English. To me, it could be read literally like a hill that has no hair on it, but it could also be quickly parsed to mean a hill that is empty and clear of trees. Would most English readers understand this meaning, or would they laugh at the phrase?

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    "Bald hill" would mean to me a hill with no vegetation, including grass. Treeless would be more accurate, but I am not sure it fits your tone... Maybe bare?
    – fev
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:39
  • I would go further than fev - I would say a bald hill is a hill whose top is completely covered by sheets of rock, e.g. Mount Kailash (Кайлас)
    – Greybeard
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:43
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    I would say that a bald hill has no trees on its top, while a bare hill has no trees anywhere on it. But maybe I'm extending the metaphor farther than most English speakers would. Aug 20, 2021 at 15:22
  • I'm sorry, this is general reference. Merriam Webster bald: 1a: lacking a natural or usual covering (as of hair, vegetation, or nap) his bald head // Both men were bald. '' a bald hill Aug 21, 2021 at 11:44

4 Answers 4


Bald means

with little or no hair on the head (Cambridge)

so metaphorically, it would describe the hill as having no vegetation, not even grass. A hill of solid earth, or a hill after a huge fire that burnt everything. Maybe @Greybeard's suggestion of covered by sheets of rock is plausible, too, though I haven't thought of it when I first read the expression.

As I said in a comment, treeless is more accurate, but does not seem to correspond to the poetic tone I feel in the Russian sentence.

I would go for bare which means:

lacking a natural, usual, or appropriate covering (M-W)

Bare is used even technically to describe treeless hills. There is a book called

Regreening the Bare Hills (about the Tropical Forest Restoration in the Asia-Pacific Region)

Here is a somewhat poetic use of the expression bare hills:

...flowing between bare hills, without a tree or a thicket on its banks... (The Eclectic review)

ADDITION: Thanks to @Kate Bunting's interesting comment, here is an insight in the matter:

Night on Bald Mountain (Russian: Ночь на лысой горе, romanized: Noch′ na lysoy gore), also known as Night on the Bare Mountain, is a series of compositions by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881).

Bald Mountain is the most familiar translation of "лысой горе" (lysoy gore) in English, and is also the most literal. The adjective "bald" is commonly used in English place names for barren hills, mountains, and other features, and so is also idiomatic. However, because the most familiar use of "bald" describes hairlessness, this part of the title is also known as "Bare Mountain". The use of "bald" to describe barren landscapes is common in European languages. (Wikipedia)

I agree that bald is closer to barren, whereas bare has a certain vagueness that is welcome in this context.

  • Yes! Thank you! I knew I was forgetting about some similar word to bald - bare! CAT tools sometimes fail spectacularly :)
    – Ignat
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:58
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    I don't speak Russian, but I know that Mussorgsky's composition usually known in English as Night on the Bare Mountain is occasionally called Night on Bald Mountain. Aug 20, 2021 at 12:03
  • @fev It's a musical composition, not a book. Apparently the Russian title is Иванова ночь на лысой горе. Aug 20, 2021 at 12:12
  • @KateBunting Sorry, I did not know, though it is clearly stated in the link I provided. I went straight to the comments about the name of the composition. Thank you, I am always grateful to learn something new.
    – fev
    Aug 20, 2021 at 12:16
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    "bald" is an entirely acceptable adjective for use in describing a hill or mountain, to mean "without trees or shrubs", in English. It is also, as has been noted, sometimes used as a noun for such places.
    – James S.
    Aug 20, 2021 at 20:51

The very first definition in Merriam-Webster [link] is:

: lacking a natural or usual covering (as of hair, vegetation, or nap)

(emphasis mine), and one of its examples is indeed "a bald hill".

That said, despite what the above definition might seem to imply, a "bald hill" may just be treeless [example], rather than lacking all vegetation, or may even just be treeless at the summit [example], in the same way that a "bald man" might lack hair only on the top of his head. Incidentally, Merriam-Webster doesn't mention this, but hills that are treeless at the summit are sometimes called balds (as a noun) [example], as are ones that are completely bare of vegetation [example].

I would guess that relatively few English-speakers are consciously aware of these uses, but I would expect most people to understand the idea in context. The exact phrase "a bald hill" appears in many books [link]. (But it's not as common as "a bare hill" [link].)


A hill like the one you describe I'd call a fell.
Interestingly, Wikipedia uses the word barren to describe the superficial features, meaning no – or very few – trees, but still some vegetation, typically moorland, so peat bogs, shrubs, grass etc.

Fell is a fairly specialized term, though, Wiktionary even calls it archaic:

fell (plural fells)

  1. (archaic outside Britain) A rocky ridge or chain of mountains.
  2. (archaic outside Britain) A wild field or upland moor.

Familiar to someone living in the northern parts of Great Britain, but less so to a typical North American I'd guess. Depending on the intended audience the more intuitive barren hill, as used by Wikipedia, might be better.


The US has a fair number of "Mount Baldy" mountains. They are places that stick up above the local treeline.

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