Growl, Grunt, Snarl and Grumble

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Senior Member

These four words are used to describe behavior of an animal such as a dog, and also to describe certain human attitude. I would be grateful for the help in clearing the difference between them. I've read the thread on and the difference between snarl and growl is more or less clear, though not in reference to humans.


1) The cardinal was a great grumbler, but he always grumbled in some entertaining way. (Hilary Mantel "The wolf hall') - I assume this means that he was murmuring complains about this or that thing or event, not loudly; thus 'grumble' is closer to 'murmur'. But 'to grumble' can also refer to a thunder or some other loud event, then, most likely, my explanation is not correct, 'to grumble' refers to a louder action then 'to murmur'.

2) As far as 'grunt' is originally used to describe a sound produced by pigs, then when referred to humans it might mean indistinct speech and can be used:
- in a positive context: She grunted few words to them - being shy, she would not dare to say anything loudly;

- in negative: They are always grunting about bad working conditions

Do my explanations for these words make any sense?

3 - 4 As to 'snarl' and 'growl' in reference to humans, I am at a loss :)

I would be happy to hear your explanations and thoughts :)
Thank you!
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The terms snarl and growl are specifically applied to certain behaviours of non-human animals.
    When applied to humans, they are applied metaphorically to human behaviour that appears to be similar to these behaviours in non-human animals.

    Murmur is a low, soft sound (see murmur).
    It refers to the manner of speech and really has nothing to do with what is said. It is possible to murmur a complaint. It is also possible to murmur endearing comments to a lover.

    Grumble always expresses discontent, irritation, annoyance. You may grumble quietly, in which case you might be murmuring in discontent.

    You're right about grunt, it means indistinct speech. Your example sentence is not natural English - people do not normally say "... gunting about <something>."
    More likely is an exchange like this:
    Father of teenage girl: 'Are you looking forward to going back to school tomorrow?"
    Teenage girl grunted in reply without lifting her eyes from her iPhone.

    That grunt conveyed no meaning whatever.


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I think "snarl" implies a more open sort of aggression than "growl", which is often taken as a warning. In humans I think this distinction applies even more.


    Senior Member
    Wonderful! I've just found another (!) verb with the same meaning of "complaining about something" - "to grouse" ))) well, well… If things are more or less clear about the difference between "to snarl" and "to growl", verbs "grouse", "grumble" and "grunt" are confusing because they do not have such a distinctive origin as former ones. When trying to say something that needs these types of verbs, shall I just list all of them and let the listener or reader choose the one? :) I hope one day to be able to find out the real difference between them :)
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