A fluid is a substance that continually deforms (flows) under an applied shear stress. All gases are fluids, but not all liquids are fluids. Fluids are a subset of the phases of matter and include liquids, gases, plasmas and, to some extent, plastic solids.
In common usage, "fluid" is often used as a synonym for "liquid", with no implication that gas could also be present. For example, "brake fluid" is hydraulic oil and will not perform its required function if there is gas in it. This colloquial usage of the term is also common in medicine ("take plenty of fluids"), and in nutrition.
Liquids form a free surface (that is, a surface not created by the container) while gases do not. The distinction between solids and fluid is not entirely obvious. The distinction is made by evaluating the viscosity of the substance. Silly Putty can be considered to behave like a solid or a fluid, depending on the time period over which it is observed. It is best described as a viscoelastic fluid. There are many examples of substances proving difficult to classify. A particularly interesting one is pitch, as demonstrated in the pitch drop experiment currently running at the University of Queensland.
Fluids display such properties as:
Solids can be subjected to shear stresses, and to normal stresses—both compressive and tensile. In contrast, ideal fluids can only be subjected to normal, compressive stress which is called pressure. Real fluids display viscosity and so are capable of being subjected to low levels of shear stress.
In a solid, shear stress is a function of strain, but in a fluid, shear stress is a function of rate of strain. A consequence of this behavior is Pascal's law which describes the role of pressure in characterizing a fluid's state.
Depending on the relationship between shear stress, and the rate of strain and its derivatives, fluids can be characterized as:
A fluid is a substance that can easily move and change shape such as water (liquids), or air (gases), or plasmas. They can 'flow'- flow and fluids both come from the same English word roots and are pronounced similarly.
Fluids usually take on the shape of the objects that they touch, in contrast to solids which maintain their own shape.
If you cool a fluid down enough it eventually becomes solid.