Ongoing and future hydroclimatic changes have large environmental and societal impacts. In terrestrial ecosystems, these changes are usually described with the terms ‘wetter’ and ‘drier’, which refer to the change in the quantity and/or presence of water, either as water fluxes or stocks. We conducted a literature review of almost 500 recent climate change studies to quantitatively investigate the consistency of the use of these terms across disciplines, regarding the hydroclimatic variables they are related to. We found that although precipitation is prevalently used to describe ‘wetter’ and ‘drier’ conditions, many other variables are also used to refer to changes in water availability between research fields, pointing to a varied perspective on the use of these terms. Some studies do not define the terms at all. In order to facilitate meta-analyses across disciplines, we therefore highlight the need to explicitly state which hydroclimatic variables authors are referring to. In this way, we hope that the terms ‘wetter’ and ‘drier’ used in scientific studies are easier to relate to hydroclimatic processes, which should facilitate the application by authorities and policy makers.