What's the word for moving inside a river upstream or downstream?

I thought about sailed, but I am not sure that's a good verb. What if we are on a small boat for 1 person? Also, what about the situation where two lovers are on a boat in Venice? I don't think sail would work and it sounds a little strange.

  • The two words you use in the question itself are the very two words that are used as adjectives. The verb depends on the type of craft. If it has a sail, it's sail, if it has oars, it's row, if it's a paddle boat, it's paddle, and so on. It has nothing to do with the number of people on the craft. May 13, 2020 at 0:37

1 Answer 1


I recommend your consideration of Jason Bassford's comment. There are a number of verbs that indicate mode of propulsion on travel in a river or stream. And of course your comment about Venice is absurd because Venice is on a lagoon of the sea so there is no upstream or downstream; there is only with the flood or with the ebb.

But regardless of the mode of propulsion or the occupancy of the vessel on a river, there are adverbs indicating direction such as "upstream" or "downstream," "with the current" or "against the current," "toward the source" or "toward the sea," "seaward" or "inland," and probably other contrasting pairs that I cannot now recollect. As for verbs, there are "go," "move," and "travel," which are neutral with regard to direction, mode of propulsion, and occupancy. There are others that imply relative direction, e.g., "slip," "flow," or "race," or, in the other direction, "struggle," "crab," "inch," or "beat." The reason that I say relative is that in tidal reaches what is relevant is not the direction to or from the sea, but the direction of the tide.

  • I like navigate as a good neutral verb. May 13, 2020 at 1:33
  • "Navigate" is excellent, but may not be totally neutral with respect to mode of conveyance or direction. If I were in a mood to carp, I'd cavil that "navigate" implies a boat or a ship rather than a raft, but I am not sure even I believe that. May 13, 2020 at 2:37
  • Interestingly, I've used navigate to [website url] in my capacity as a technical editor at two companies now. Both of them list navigate as the word to use in that context in their in-house style guides. I can't actually imagine that the type of vehicle would have any bearing on its use. Perhaps, if we're being really nuanced, you should say navigate to [a destination] rather than just navigate upstream or navigate downstream, but I'm not sure of that. May 13, 2020 at 3:03
  • I was being half facetious. "Navigate" to me implies a degree of skill and control and flexibility, the kind associated with a ship, the root meaning of "navis." A raft that can only follow the current may not be capable of such control and flexibility. It certainly cannot navigate upstream. In the context of the Internet, I'd agree that "navigate" implies the requisite degree of control and flexibility. But I am unwilling to take a word with roots stretching back millennia and to determine its meaning by a recent technologogical context. It will make reading "Life on the Mississippi" odd. May 13, 2020 at 3:26

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