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gleam / glimmer / glint / glisten / glitter

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Dec 31, 2003
Dear Teachers, I'd say that these words really drive me crazy. :mad: From the explanations in the dictionary, I see no differences. But I don't think they are interchangable--there must be some differences. As a native speaker, from your own experience of using English, what difference do you think is important for learners to remember? Thanks a lot! :)


Senior Member
Jun 15, 2004
gleam: constant and steady light, in the surrounding darkness, reflected or not. Close to 'glow'. Eg.
The lights of the car gleamed in the distance.
The lighthouse gleamed through the clouds.
He wore expensive, gleaming shoes.
The moonlight gleamed on the quiet lake.

glimmer: feeble, steady light, dimmed as though there were some sort of veil or something. Does not work for reflected lights. Eg.
The lights of the house glimmered through the fog.
I saw a glimmering light at the end of the tunnel.

glint: momentary light reflected from metal or glass. Eg.
The sunlight glinted on the scope of the rookie sniper's rifle.
The light glinted on his wristwatch.

glisten: reflected light, on water, moisture etc. Eg.
The face of the poker player was glistening with sweat.
Her eyes glistened with tears.

glitter: light reflected on metal. Eg.
The assassin's knife glittered just before he stroke.
The eyes of the beast glittered as it prepared itself to jump on its prey.

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