Cohesive forces are the intermolecular forces (such as those from hydrogen bonding and Van der Waals forces) which cause a tendency in liquids to resist separation. These attractive forces exist between molecules of thesame substance. For instance, rain falls in droplets, rather than a fine mist, because water has strong cohesion which pulls its molecules tightly together, forming droplets. This force tends to unite molecules of a liquid, gathering them into relatively large clusters due to the molecules' dislike for its surrounding.

Adhesive forces are the attractive forces between unlike molecules. They are caused by forces acting between two substances, such as mechanical forces (sticking together) and electrostatic forces (attraction due to opposing charges). In the case of a liquid wetting agent, adhesion causes the liquid to cling to the surface on which it rests. When water is poured on clean glass, it tends to spread, forming a thin, uniform film over the glasses surface. This is because the adhesive forces between water and glass are strong enough to pull the water molecules out of their spherical formation and hold them against the surface of the glass, thus avoiding the repulsion between like molecules.