gris·​ly ˈgriz-lē How to pronounce grisly (audio)
grislier; grisliest
: inspiring horror or intense fear
houses that were dark and grisly under the blank, cold sky D. H. Lawrence
: inspiring disgust or distaste
a grisly account of the fire
grisliness noun

Did you know?

An angry grizzly bear could certainly inspire fear, so grizzly and grisly must be related, right? Grizzly comes from the Middle English adjective grisel, meaning "gray." Like its close relative grizzled, grizzly means "sprinkled or streaked with gray." In other words, the grizzly bear got its name because the hairs of its brownish to buff coat usually have silver or pale tips, creating a grizzled effect, not because it causes terror. Grisly is related to Old English grislic, which comes from a verb meaning "to fear" and which gives grisly its "terrifying" sense.

Choose the Right Synonym for grisly

ghastly, grisly, gruesome, macabre, lurid mean horrifying and repellent in appearance or aspect.

ghastly suggests the terrifying aspects of corpses and ghosts.

a ghastly accident

grisly and gruesome suggest additionally the results of extreme violence or cruelty.

an unusually grisly murder
suffered a gruesome death

macabre implies a morbid preoccupation with the physical aspects of death.

a macabre tale of premature burial

lurid adds to gruesome the suggestion of shuddering fascination with violent death and especially with murder.

the lurid details of a crime

Example Sentences

The jurors saw grisly photos of the crime scene. the police report described the murder scene in grisly detail
Recent Examples on the Web Carmel police responding to a welfare check Saturday made a grisly discovery. Indianapolis Star, The Indianapolis Star, 14 Nov. 2022 The 28-year-old musician, who was fatally stabbed last Saturday in Los Angeles, often rapped about the grisly realities of life in America’s inner cities with a wit that transcended what others have achieved with the medium. Will Dukes, Rolling Stone, 22 Dec. 2021 That’s not to say there weren’t grisly images, only that the initial threat doesn’t appear rooted in the supernatural, aliens or some of the other outlandish wrinkles witnessed over the 10 previous seasons. Brian Lowry, CNN, 20 Oct. 2022 The Alabama Department of Public Health reported the state had crossed that grisly milestone during its weekly COVID update on Thursday. Ramsey Archibald |, al, 11 Aug. 2022 The effort fizzled after a grisly killing in Sacramento, when a woman and her two dogs were slain and their home set on fire; the man charged in the case has a long criminal record. Dustin Gardiner, San Francisco Chronicle, 10 Aug. 2022 Koji Yakusho), a dedicated homicide investigator leading a task force into a series of unexplained, grisly murders. Katie Rife,, 30 July 2022 Contains strong disturbing violent content and grisly images, graphic nudity and some coarse language. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 1 June 2022 After a career of treating bloody noses and grisly wounds, the pain won’t stop any time soon for Don DelNegro. Matt Porter,, 14 May 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'grisly.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, from Old English grislic, from gris- (akin to Old English āgrīsan to fear); akin to Old High German grīsenlīh terrible

First Known Use

12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of grisly was in the 12th century


Dictionary Entries Near grisly

Cite this Entry

“Grisly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



gris·​ly ˈgriz-lē How to pronounce grisly (audio)
grislier; grisliest
: horrible, gruesome
a grisly description of the fire
grisliness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on grisly

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
Spell It

Hear a word and type it out. How many can you get right?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.