A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of water. Small rivers can be referred to using names such as creek, brook, rivulet, and rill. There are no official definitions for the generic term river as applied to geographic features, although in some countries or communities a stream is defined by its size. Many names for small rivers are specific to geographic location; examples are "run" in some parts of the United States, "burn" in Scotland and northeast England, and "beck" in northern England. Sometimes a river is defined as being larger than a creek, but not always: the language is vague.
Rivers are part of the water cycle. Water generally collects in a river from precipitation through a drainage basin from surface runoff and other sources such as groundwater recharge, springs, and the release of stored water in natural ice and snowpacks.
Rivers are often considered major features within a landscape; however, they actually only cover around 0.1% of the land on Earth. They are made more obvious and significant to humans since many human cities and civilizations are built around the freshwater supplied by rivers and streams. Most of the major cities of the world are situated on the banks of rivers, as they are, or were, used as a source of water, for obtaining food, for transport, as borders, as a defensive measure, as a source of hydropower to drive machinery, for bathing, and as a means of disposing of waste. In the pre-industrial era, larger rivers were a major obstruction to the movement of people, goods, and armies across them. Towns often developed at the few locations they could be crossed. Many major cities such as London are located at the lowest point at which a river could be bridged.
Potamology is the scientific study of rivers, while limnology is the study of inland waters in general.