Bayou, Sound, Bay – What’s The Difference

Rougarou, BayouHere in south eastern Louisiana, we have a lot of bayous. As a matter of fact, the Atchafalaya Basin, which is a combination of wetlands and river delta areas where the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico converge, is the nation’s largest river swamp. Often, we also hear the term Mississippi sound used which runs east-west along the southern coasts of Mississippi and Alabama, from Waveland, Mississippi. Have you ever wondered what are the differences between a bayou, bay and sound? We took a closer look to figure out what distinguishes these bodies of water from each other.  Here is what we found out:


A bayou is defined as a relatively small, sluggish waterway through lowlands or swamps. It generally has a slow, almost imperceptible current flow. Bayous are sometimes also defined as slow moving streams crisscrossing Louisiana. They are marshy outlets of a lake or a river.  The word Bayou was first used by the English in Louisiana, according to some experts, and is thought to originate from the Choctaw word “bayuk”, which means “small stream.” The first settlements of Bayou Teche, and other bayous, were by the Cajuns, and that is why bayous are associated with Cajun culture. Here in New Orleans for example, Bayou St. John flows into Lake Pontchartrain.


In geography, a sound is a large sea or ocean inlet.  A sound has fresh water (from rivers) and salt water (from oceans or seas) and is large bodies of water. A sound has a a series of inlets. Sounds are usually larger than bays.


A bay is a body of water that is partially surrounded by land. A bay directly connects to a larger main body of water, such as an ocean, a lake, or another bay. A very large bay is usually called a gulf. Bays are formed through coastal erosion by rivers and glaciers. A bay formed by a glacier is also known as a fjord.

Wilco Manufacturing

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