Please help me to use the words Bloat, Swell and Bulge properly.

Oxford defines "bloat" through the compression of gas or liquid but some other dictionaries are not specific about the cause.

For example consider the example below and please clarify the difference(s) that you see among their meanings.

The balloon bloated/swelled/bulged.

What is the difference between swell and bloat in the sentence below?

In children, the abdomen can become swollen and bloated and medical attention should be sought urgently.

Please also consider the following situations and suggest the most common or proper word for them.

  1. Pregnancy : A ______ tummy. bulgy/bloated
  2. Natural prominent eyes : ______ eyes. bulgy/bloated
  3. Surprised : His eyes _______ . bulged out/bloated out

1 Answer 1


Bloat and bulge mean distended. They have a sense of heaviness and so are not appropriate for a balloon being filled with air or helium. If the balloon was being filled with something heavier like water, then those words might be appropriate.

A balloon will swell as it is being inflated with air. Swell means getting bigger.

  • Thank you KCH. But why Oxford dictionary defines bloat as : " Make or become swollen with fluid or gas "
    – user3214
    Apr 20, 2014 at 18:08
  • 1
    But they are not talking about a balloon.
    – KCH
    Apr 20, 2014 at 18:10
  • 2
    In a medical context 'swollen' usually means an inflammation, whereas 'bloated' suggests full of gas or water. Apr 20, 2014 at 18:25
  • 2
    Actually consider the case of a balloon that had a weak spot in it such that when it was inflated that spot bulged out. leo.werberg.net/ali/archives/tire_bubble.jpg
    – Jim
    Apr 20, 2014 at 19:51

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