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Plain vs. Plateau: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 15, 2023
A plain is a flat, often extensive land area, while a plateau is an elevated flatland, higher than the surrounding area.

Key Differences

A plain and a plateau, both landforms, differ primarily in elevation and formation processes. A plain is a broad, flat, or gently rolling area, typically situated at a low elevation. Conversely, a plateau is characterized as a flat or gently sloping elevated landform, which is distinctly higher than its surrounding landscape.
Both plains and plateaus can be vast, spanning miles, but their origins often differ. Plains are formed due to sedimentation processes, wherein particles from mountains and hills are washed down by rivers and deposited over large areas over time. Plateaus, however, can form through various means, such as volcanic activity or the upward lifting of the Earth's crust.
In terms of usage, plains often prove advantageous for human activities like agriculture due to their fertile soils and flat terrains. Plateaus, while also accommodating human settlements, may have challenges due to their height, but they can offer unique ecosystems and climates distinct from the lower lands.
Vegetation patterns can also differ between plains and plateaus. Plains often showcase grasslands, which can transition into forests if rainfall is adequate. Plateaus, given their elevation, might have different and sometimes sparse vegetation, dictated by their specific altitude and climate conditions.
Water bodies, such as rivers, frequently flow through plains, shaping them over time. Plateaus, with their elevated disposition, often give rise to rivers as melting snow or rainwater flows down their sides to lower terrains.

Comparison Chart


Typically low lying.
Elevated, higher than surrounding areas.

Formation Process

Formed by sedimentation processes.
Formed by volcanic activity or uplift of Earth's crust.

Typical Use

Often used for agriculture due to fertile soils.
Settlements, unique ecosystems, and different climates.


Grasslands transitioning to forests with adequate rainfall.
Dictated by altitude and climate; sometimes sparse.

Relation to Water Bodies

Rivers flow through, shaping the landscape.
Often source regions for rivers.

Plain and Plateau Definitions


A broad, flat expanse of land.
The Great Plains stretch across multiple states, offering vast grasslands.


An elevated tract of flat or gently sloping land.
The Colorado Plateau showcases unique geological formations.


A level area without significant hills or valleys.
The vast plain was ideal for cultivating crops.


A flat region higher than its surroundings.
The Deccan Plateau in India is renowned for its rich volcanic soil.


A large region of flat or gently undulating ground.
The settlers chose the plain for its fertile soil.


A landform that rises sharply from adjacent lowlands.
The plateau offered a panoramic view of the valley below.


An extensive area of land with a uniform surface.
They rode across the plain, with the horizon in clear view.


A high, flat region formed by various geological processes.
The mesa is a type of plateau with steep sides and a flat top.


A flat terrain with minimal elevation changes.
The plain was dotted with wildflowers in the spring.


An elevated area with a relatively level surface.
The Tibetan Plateau is often referred to as the Roof of the World.


Free from obstructions; open; clear
In plain view.


An elevated, comparatively level expanse of land; a tableland.


Obvious to the perception or mind; evident
Make one's intention plain.


A relatively stable level, period, or state
Mortgage rates declined, then reached a plateau.


What is a primary characteristic of a plain?

A plain is a flat or gently rolling expanse of land.

How is a plateau different from a mountain?

A plateau is flat or gently sloping, while a mountain is more peaked and steep.

Which landform is generally better for farming: plain or plateau?

Plains are often preferred for farming due to their flat terrains and fertile soils.

Can plains be formed by erosion?

Yes, erosion by water or wind can lead to the formation of plains.

Can plains be found near coasts?

Yes, coastal plains are flat areas adjacent to coastlines.

Are plains always at sea level?

No, plains can be at various elevations but are typically low-lying.

Are there populated cities on plateaus?

Yes, many cities globally, like Denver and Addis Ababa, are situated on plateaus.

Can a plateau be formed by volcanic activity?

Yes, some plateaus are formed by successive lava flows.

Are plains solely composed of grasslands?

No, plains can host various ecosystems, including forests, depending on rainfall.

Do rivers flow on plateaus?

Yes, many rivers originate from or flow through plateaus.

How do people adapt to living on plateaus?

Residents may adapt to colder temperatures, different agriculture practices, and thinner air at higher elevations.

What's the difference between a plateau and a mesa?

A mesa is a type of plateau but is smaller and has steep sides.

Can plateaus influence river directions?

Absolutely, rivers can be redirected by the elevation and shape of plateaus.

Are all plains fertile?

No, the fertility of a plain depends on factors like soil composition and rainfall.

Are there wildlife-specific to plateaus?

Yes, plateaus can have unique ecosystems, leading to specialized flora and fauna.

Are plains always vast?

While many plains are expansive, they can vary in size.

Can plateaus have forests?

Yes, depending on the climate, plateaus can host forests.

Is it easy to build infrastructure on plains?

Plains, due to their flat nature, are generally easier for infrastructure development than hilly or mountainous areas.

Are plains predominantly found in specific parts of the world?

Plains are found worldwide, from the Great Plains in the U.S. to the Russian Steppes.

Do plateaus influence weather patterns?

Yes, the elevation of plateaus can affect local climates and weather patterns.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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