Six precipitation probability distributions (exponential, Gamma, Weibull, skewed normal, mixed exponential and hybrid exponential/Pareto distributions) are evaluated on their ability to reproduce the statistics of the original observed time series. Each probability distribution is also indirectly assessed by looking at its ability to reproduce key hydrological variables after being used as inputs to a lumped hydrological model. Data from 24 weather stations and two watersheds (Chute-du-Diable and Yamaska watersheds) in the province of Quebec (Canada) were used for this assessment. Various indices or statistics, such as the mean, variance, frequency distribution and extreme values are used to quantify the performance in simulating the precipitation and discharge. Performance in reproducing key statistics of the precipitation time series is well correlated to the number of parameters of the distribution function, and the three-parameter precipitation models outperform the other models, with the mixed exponential distribution being the best at simulating daily precipitation. The advantage of using more complex precipitation distributions is not as clear-cut when the simulated time series are used to drive a hydrological model. Although the advantage of using functions with more parameters is not nearly as obvious, the mixed exponential distribution appears nonetheless as the best candidate for hydrological modelling. The implications of choosing a distribution function with respect to hydrological modelling and climate change impact studies are also discussed. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.