Natural lakes are generally found in mountainous areas, rift zones, and areas with ongoing glaciation. Other lakes are found in endorheic basins or along the courses of mature rivers. In some parts of the world there are many lakes because of chaotic drainage patterns left over from the last Ice Age. All lakes are temporary over geologic time scales, as they will slowly fill in with sediments or spill out of the basin containing them.
Many lakes are artificial and are constructed for industrial or agricultural use, for hydro-electric power generation or domestic water supply, or for aesthetic or recreational purposes or even for other activities.
The word lake comes from Middle English lake ("lake, pond, waterway"), from Old English lacu ("pond, pool, stream"), from Proto-Germanic *lakō ("pond, ditch, slow moving stream"), from the Proto-Indo-European root *leǵ- ("to leak, drain"). Cognates include Dutch laak ("lake, pond, ditch"), Middle Low German lāke ("water pooled in a riverbed, puddle") as in: de:Wolfslake, de:Butterlake, German Lache ("pool, puddle"), and Icelandic lækur ("slow flowing stream"). Also related are the English words leak and leach.
There is considerable uncertainty about defining the difference between lakes and ponds, and no current internationally accepted definition of either term across scientific disciplines or political boundaries exists. For example, limnologists have defined lakes as water bodies which are simply a larger version of a pond, which can have wave action on the shoreline or where wind-induced turbulence plays a major role in mixing the water column. None of these definitions completely excludes ponds and all are difficult to measure. For this reason, simple size-based definitions are increasingly used to separate ponds and lakes. One definition of lake is a body of water of 2 hectares (5 acres) or more in area;:331 however, others[who?] have defined lakes as waterbodies of 5 hectares (12 acres) and above, or 8 hectares (20 acres) and above  (see also the definition of "pond"). Charles Elton, one of the founders of ecology, regarded lakes as waterbodies of 40 hectares (99 acres) or more. The term lake is also used to describe a feature such as Lake Eyre, which is a dry basin most of the time but may become filled under seasonal conditions of heavy rainfall. In common usage, many lakes bear names ending with the word pond, and a lesser number of names ending with lake are in quasi-technical fact, ponds. One textbook illustrates this point with the following: "In Newfoundland, for example, almost every lake is called a pond, whereas in Wisconsin, almost every pond is called a lake."
The majority of lakes on Earth are fresh water, and most lie in the Northern Hemisphere at higher latitudes. Canada, with a deranged drainage system has an estimated 31,752 lakes larger than 3 square kilometres (1.2 sq mi) and an unknown total number of lakes, but is estimated to be at least 2 million. Finland has 187,888 lakes 500 square metres (5,400 sq ft) or larger, of which 56,000 are large (10,000 square metres (110,000 sq ft) or larger).