Word Confusion: Grate versus Great

Posted April 9, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

It really grates on me when people get all grand and great in their writing…sigh… Can you imagine a sentence like how grate thou art? Yep, I’d be thinking that there thou is pretty irritating. Quite a difference from a sentence like how great thou art.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Grate Great
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Victorian stone grate

Image by David Bleasdale from England (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A beautiful stone grate with little heart-shaped holes — those romantic Victorians.

A huge room with a parquet floor, goldleafed walls ornamentation, and a painted ceiling

Image from I, Sailko [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. View the GNU Free Documentation License

The Great Hall of the Catherine Palace.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective; Noun 1;
Verb, intransitive & transitive2

Past tense or past participle: grated
Gerund or Present participle: grating

Adjective; Adverb; Noun (and sometimes a plural noun

Recess of a fireplace or furnace

  • Metal frame confining fuel in a fireplace or furnace
  • Grating

Verb, intransitive:
Make an unpleasant rasping sound

  • [Grate against] Rub against something with a rasping sound
  • Have an irritating effect

Verb, transitive:
Reduce something — especially food — to small shreds by rubbing it on a grater

Of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average

  • Very large and imposing
  • Used to reinforce another adjective of size or extent
  • Used to express surprise, admiration, or contempt, especially in exclamations
  • [Also greater] Used in names of animals or plants that are larger than similar kinds
  • [Greater; of a city] Including adjacent urban areas

Of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average

  • [the Great] A title denoting the most important person of the name
  • [Informal] Very good or satisfactory
  • [Informal] Excellent
  • [Informal; of a person] Very skilled or capable in a particular area

Denoting the element of something that is the most important or the most worthy of consideration

  • Used to indicate that someone or something particularly deserves a specified description

[In combination; in names of family relationships] Denoting one degree further removed upward or downward

[Informal] Excellently
Very well

A great or distinguished person

[Greats; British; Informal] Another term for Literae Humaniores

Noun, plural:
[The great] Great people collectively

I love to use grated cheese for my grilled cheese sandwiches.

We’ll need a grate for the fireplace.

Did you clean the barbecue grate?

Reach down through the grate and grab that gun.

Verb, intransitive:
His helmet grated against the top of the door.

Please oil the hinges on that door! The squeak is grating on me!

He had a juvenile streak that grated on her nerves.

Verb, transitive:
Grate those carrots if you want a carrot cake.

Hash browns require you to grate the potatoes.

I would love to walk the Great Wall of China and dive the Great Barrier Reef.

She showed great potential as an actor.

There was a great social gulf between them.

Mary had this great big grin on her face when I came home.

You great lumbering ox!

Ever since Jaws, I’ve been terrified of great white sharks.

The Greater Denver area has a great bus system.

Great art has the power to change lives.

Alexander the Great, Alfred the Great, Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Mangrai the Great, and Yu the Great are among a number of great rulers throughout history.

This has been another great year.

What a great guy!

“Great!” said Tom.

John Nash was a brilliant man, great at mathematics.

The great thing is the challenge.

I am a great fan of Dorothy Dunnett’s.

great-aunt, great-granddaughter


Wasn’t the football game great last week?

The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Buddy Holly are all among the greats.

Abraham Lincoln was among the greats.

Noun, plural:
Many of the greats — Churchill and Ludwig von Beethoven, among them — had mental illnesses in common.

History of the Word:
1 Middle English meaning a grating from the Old French and based on the Latin cratis meaning hurdle.

2 Late Middle English from the Old French grater of Germanic origin. It’s related to the German kratzen meaning to scratch.

Old English grēat meaning big. It’s related to the Dutch groot and the German gross.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?