Things could turn “grisly” if you disturb a “grizzly,” and then you have to hope you’re too “gristly” for a bear to eat! Confused? That’s okay. Grizzly, grisly, and gristly all sound similar. But you won’t want to mix them up in writing, so check out our advice below and make sure your work is error free.
Grizzly (Bears, Beards and Babies)
The word “grizzly” is mostly used in the term “grizzly bear,” a species of brown bear native to North America. People often say just “grizzly” for short:
We saw a grizzly in the forest last week.
The species gets its name because its brown fur is “grizzled,” which means “streaked with grey.” Some use “grizzly” as a variant spelling of this term, so we could describe, for instance, a man as having a “grizzly” beard.
In British English, “grizzly” can also describe a child that cries a lot:
My baby has been grizzly all day today.
But this sense of “grizzly” is mostly informal. As such, you won’t find it used in medical or other formal writing about crying children.
“Grisly” means “gruesome, unpleasant, or disgusting.” It often refers to something that induces horror or involves death and violence:
The violence in horror films is too grisly for me.
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Despite their spelling differences, “grizzly” and “grisly” sound the same when spoken (i.e., both are pronounced griz-lee). This makes it easy to mix them up!
Gristly (Full of Gristle)
“Gristly” is another word for something unpleasant, just in a different context. In this case, we have an adjective that means “full of gristle or cartilage”:
The mutton was gristly, but it tasted okay.
So, if the meat you’re eating is “gristly,” it will be tough and rubbery.
Note, too, that “gristly” is pronounced differently than the other words here. Rather than a “z” sound, you say “gristle” followed by “ee” (i.e., gristle-ee). But the similar spelling to “grisly” makes it easy to confuse these terms.