Easily Confused Words: Grisly vs. Grizzly

Grisly and grizzly are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Grisly (pronounced “grih-slee”) is an adjective. It describes something gory, heinous, and instilling fear and dread. Typically grisly things are bloody, painful, and potentially deadly. For example, many US (and UK) cop/detective shows start with a grisly murder scenario that has to be investigated.

Grizzly (pronounced “grihz-zlee”)

  • As a noun, it means a type of brown bear native to North America.
  • As an adjective, it means gray or grayish. This isn’t a usage that’s heard very much.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Griselda was looking forward to camping at Yellowstone. She was somewhat nervous about running into Grizzly bears, and meeting a grisly end. So she planned ahead. She made sure to pack her food in bear-proof containers like hanging sacks and a lockbox. She also brought bear spray. 

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