Distinguish Between a Tributary and a Distributary.

By Shivank Goel|Updated : January 2nd, 2023

The difference between a Tributary and a Distributary is that a Tributary flow towards the main river, while a Distributary flows away from the parent water body. While tributaries are streams or rivers that flow towards a river, lake, or creek, their opposite rivers flow away from a river or stream. The place where the tributaries join the original water body is called Sangam. Distributaries refer to the division of a river or a stream. They are found in river deltas.

Distinguish between a Tributary and a Distributary

A tributary is a river/stream that joins a larger parent river/stream/lake. While a distributary is a stream that flows opposite from the mainstream. The major differences between a tributary and a distributary are elaborated in the table given below.



Flows towards the parent water body (river, stream, or lake).

Flows away from the parent water body (river or stream).

Drains the surrounding water basin of its groundwater and surface water.

Forms a delta or an estuary.

Does not flow directly toward a sea, ocean, or lake.

It May or may not flow directly towards a larger water body, like a sea, ocean, or lake.

Example: The tributary of river Ganga is river Yamuna.

Example: The distributary of the river Ganga is Hooghly.

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FAQs on Difference Between Tributary and Distributary

  • To distinguish between a Tributary and a Distributary, the main criterion is where they flow with respect to the main river or stream. A tributary is a river or stream that flows toward the main river, lake, or stream. In contrast, a distributary flows away from the parent water body by bifurcating a river or a stream.

  • An example of a tributary is the Yamuna river, which joins the parent river, which is the Ganga. On the other hand, an example of a distributary is the river Hooghly, which bifurcates the parent river Ganga.

    Ganga River System

    River System in India

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