ghastly vs gruesome what difference

what is difference between ghastly and gruesome



From a conflation of a derivation of Old English gǣstan (to torment, frighten) with the suffix -lic, and ghostly (which was also spelt “gastlich” in Middle English). Equivalent to ghast/gast + -ly. Spelling with ‘gh’ developed 16th century due to the conflation.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈɡɑːs(t).li/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈɡæs(t).li/


ghastly (comparative ghastlier, superlative ghastliest)

  1. Like a ghost in appearance; death-like; pale; pallid; dismal.
    • 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
      Each turned his face with a ghastly pang.
  2. Horrifyingly shocking.
  3. Extremely bad.


  • (sickly pale): See also Thesaurus:pallid
  • (horrifyingly shocking): lurid



ghastly (not comparable)

  1. In a ghastly manner.
    • 1921, William Dudley Pelley, The Fog: A Novel, page 196:
      Johnathan’s lips moved ghastly before his voice would come. “So I’m crazy, am I? And if I choose to murder you, what would you do?”



From grue (to shudder) +‎ -some. Compare Danish and Norwegian grusom (horrible), German grausam (cruel), and Dutch gruwzaam (gruesome; cruel).


gruesome (comparative gruesomer or more gruesome, superlative gruesomest or most gruesome)

  1. Repellently frightful and shocking; horrific or ghastly.
    • 1912: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, Chapter 6
      In the middle of the floor lay a skeleton, every vestige of flesh gone from the bones to which still clung the mildewed and moldered remnants of what had once been clothing. Upon the bed lay a similar gruesome thing, but smaller, while in a tiny cradle near-by was a third, a wee mite of a skeleton.


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