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 skyD. 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

Examples of grisly in a Sentence

The jurors saw grisly photos of the crime scene. the police report described the murder scene in grisly detail
Recent Examples on the Web And the filmmakers seem to take a particular joy in irritating him this time around, seizing on the cozy tropes of the classical detective story and steering them, with jolting sound effects and grisly imagery, in the direction of full-throttle supernatural horror. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, 14 Sep. 2023 Newspaper accounts of automobile deaths consistently emphasized the grisly fact that more U.S. citizens were killed by cars on American streets during the years of World War I than by German bayonets and munitions on the battlefields of Western Europe. Jack McCordick, The New Republic, 13 Sep. 2023 The case is among a rash of grisly disappearances across Mexico. Alfredo Corchado, Dallas News, 9 Sep. 2023 But Hemingway also described his injuries in grisly detail. Daniel Wu, Washington Post, 6 Sep. 2023 The grisly discovery was made in West Philadelphia by a city Housing Authority sanitation worker, according to Philadelphia Police Department officials. Bill Hutchinson, ABC News, 31 Aug. 2023 The grisly horror franchise returns with this tenth entry, which, in keeping with the series' convoluted timeline shenanigans, takes place between the first and second films. Brendan Morrow, The Week, 22 Aug. 2023 These parts are full of cartilage, tendons, and other grisly bits, which lends well to long hours in a slow-cooker. Katie Hill, Outdoor Life, 17 Aug. 2023 The remains are the unreconciled legacy of a grisly practice in which body parts were scavenged from graveyards, battlefields, hospitals and morgues in more than 80 countries. Andrew Ba Tran, Washington Post, 14 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'grisly.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 29 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

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