A Chill/Chilly wind blew and icy fingers of death crept up my spine.

Which is correct to use here ? Chill or Chilly ?

Chill wind is a idiom which means troubles, difficulties etc but since we want to convey that the wind was cold so using chilly is correct but someone here said that they both mean the same. Is it correct ? Chill is a noun so I don't think it can be used to qualify wind, instead chilly is a adjective so chilly should be the correct word to use. Am I correct ?

  • Either is fine, but as you say, "a chill wind" is more poetic.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 17:32
  • Chill is fine as an adjectival usage in many contexts - a chill look, for example. It's a bit "poetic", but not really "dated". Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 17:50
  • In the sentence quoted, given the "icy fingers of death", the most appropriate is probably "chill". But in regular conversation people would not say "a chill wind". Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 18:14
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    Note that "chill" and "chilly" have different nuances. They don't really mean the same thing, except broadly speaking.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 18:19
  • Strange. I've never come across 'chill' in this context. Is it American? Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 21:15

1 Answer 1


As Robusto points out, "a chill wind" is not the same thing as "a chilly wind". Chilly means relatively cold, or at least enough to make you shiver. Chill implies a deeper and more dramatic cold, which is why it's generally used as a metaphor, as an omen of troubles to come.

In the context you provide, "a chill wind" is more appropriate -- although be aware that a story with too many of these dramatic phrases can feel melodramatic rather than ominous.

In a different context, or used differently, both chill and chilly mean the same thing.

I feel a chill, could you close the window?

It's chilly in here, could you close the window?

  • How about a super idiomatic "chill wind" that isn't like those other, ya know, super serious uptight winds. It's chill. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 1:58
  • @KatrinaBrock that is exactly what I thought of when I read "chill wind." I would never describe wind as "chill" to mean "cold." It's either "chilly," or there is "a chill," as in Andrew's example sentence above. Personally I think calling that phrase poetic is downplaying how weird it is.
    – cjl750
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 2:43
  • @cjl750 Weird perhaps, but it's pretty ubiquitous in English literature.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 2:44
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    @KatrinaBrock here in San Diego, it's, like, chill winds are the only kind of winds we get.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 2:45
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    @cjl750 Not so very unusual, I think. Also this, and references in Newsweek and various other publications in the past 18 months. Naturally these writers use the expression for dramatic effect.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 3:09

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