I wonder what is the difference between the three similar words which seems to me expressing the same meaning: shriek, scream, and shrill.

How can I tell them apart? I want to express the unpleasant high-pitch cry issued by a child.


Sorry for the confusion but one, I meant the usage in verb. And two, I want to express what the child in this video does in around 27 seconds or later. The video uses scream, but I only talk about what he does in 27 seconds or later and NOT talk about his shout which occurred before the point of 27 seconds, which I think is classified to scream.

  • Don't forget to look at the part of speech that each word is when you look it up in the dictionary. "Shrill" is more commonly an adjective while the other two are normally nouns. The dictionary I looked at does offer "shrill" as a noun but I don't think I've ever run into anyone using it that way.
    – Catija
    Apr 8, 2016 at 1:48
  • Could you write an example sentence or two so we can get the usage right?
    – user3169
    Apr 8, 2016 at 2:06
  • @Catija I looked it up in my dictionary and it listed all three in verb (as well as noun and/or adjective). Sorry if my original question was grasped as a question on noun, but I meant an usage in verb.
    – Blaszard
    Apr 10, 2016 at 9:09
  • Screech and squeal are some other similar words that you might like to look up.
    – nnnnnn
    Jun 9, 2016 at 13:07

4 Answers 4


A scream is always loud and may or may not be sudden.

They screamed in terror.

If a scream is high in pitch it turns into a shriek.
A shriek is always loud, high in pitch, and is usually sudden.

She shrieked in horror.

Shrill is high in pitch.

She had a high, shrill sounding voice.

Women's voices, not men's, are more usually characterised using shrill or shriek.
Both men and women scream.

shriek = scream + shrill


"Shriek" usually refers to a high-pitched sound. A "scream" is just a loud piercing cry. "Shrill" is an adjective that can describe "shriek" or "scream". It usually indicates a high-pitched, piercing sound. The type of sound you want for the child would depend on the circumstances. Babies and children often "wail" or "cry" when upset. If they are scared or surprised, they will "shriek" or "squeal." Does that help?


Firstly, shrill is an adjective, whereas the others are verbs, which means that a shriek or a scream can be shrill.

Whereas, shriek and scream are very similar to each other. So, one difference between them would be:

shriek can be used for things and mechanisms too. Like: The car breaks shrieked to a halt as the congressman pulled over. However, scream is used for living beings, mostly for a high pitch sound.

On a simple google search, I got this answer which complements mine:

Scream is used to describe loud cry of a person as a rule. She screamed with a horror when saw what she did. Screech is likely to relate to any mechanisms. The car' brakes screeched terribly from huge strain but that saved driver's life.

I guess shriek is similar to word scream and could be used either person or any tools and apparatuses. The shriek of a cargo ship reminds us with which aim we're waiting for him.

  • Scream isn't applied exclusively to living beings.
    – nnnnnn
    Jun 9, 2016 at 13:03

A shriek is a sharp, high-pitched and loud sound coming from the mouth. A stereotypical example is an "eek!" sound coming from someone who is scared or startled. Shrieks are short sounds.

Screams on the other hand are not automatically high-pitched and may last a second or two - typically longer than a shriek. Someone might scream for help but wouldn't shriek for help.

Shrill is usually an adjective that means something high-pitched and loud. It's not typically used as a noun, but can be used to describe a scream, e.g. "a shrill scream."

  • 1
    This is a good general description, but there are plenty of literary examples of people shrieking out words. You wouldn't say that someone "shrieked for help", but "Help!", she shrieked is OK. Screams can be longer than a few seconds.
    – nnnnnn
    Jun 9, 2016 at 13:19

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