What’s the Difference Between Ghouls, Goblins, and Ghosts?


Come Halloween, miniature ghosts, ghouls, and goblins ring your doorbell. But each of the three freaky frights has a different history and personality.

One of the only features these staples of the supernatural share is their ghastliness. Ghosts are considered to be the souls of the dead. They are imagined as disembodied spirits, and are often visualized as vague or evanescent forms; hence, the white sheet routine. The Old English gast means “soul, spirit, life, breath.” A red blood cell having no hemoglobin is also called a ghost. (And the word dord, one of the strangest in the whole dictionary, is known as a “ghost word.”  Learn why here.)

The details behind ghoul are far more malevolent and may have inspired a horror film or two. In Arabic legend, a ghoul is a creature that eats both stolen corpses and children. The word comes from the Arabic ghul, which comes from ghala, meaning “he seized.”

Like ghouls, goblins are malicious, though perhaps not as nightmarish as the flesh eaters above. A goblin is a “grotesque sprite or elf.” Goblins can be mischievous. They can also assume human and animal form and assail people. Goblin comes from the German kobold. In German folklore, a kobold was a mischievous household spirit. Sometimes the kobold is helpful and sings to children. But too often, he hides valuable household items, kicks people, and erupts in rage when he doesn’t get enough food.

That Jack O’ Lantern on a friendly neighbor’s porch may not seem as scary as a ghoul, but the story of who the “Jack” in “Jack O’ Lantern” is named after may give you the chills. Try not to be scared when you learn the answer here.


  1. Renessmae -  October 28, 2014 - 6:38 am

    Why are there so many misspellings when this is a blog on dictionary.com…? :/ Hmm.. but anyways what are you people being for Halloween? Happy Halloween!!!

    • RazerShark -  October 29, 2014 - 10:02 am

      happy halloween back and I’m just go to a party

  2. Elvira -  November 25, 2013 - 5:46 am

    I find it ironic to see so many misspellings in these posts for a blog on dictionary.com

    • Amoo dar Dar -  October 28, 2014 - 2:41 pm

      you are sooooooooooooooooooo purrrrrrrrfect GIRL LOVE YA

    • Huiojbvv -  October 28, 2014 - 4:03 pm

      I love uuuuuuuuuuu

  3. fathy -  October 28, 2013 - 11:54 pm

    i think all of them imaginary characters ; only for making children be afraid

  4. Marscaleb -  October 28, 2013 - 10:16 pm

    Ghosts, goblins, and ghouls…
    There are a lot of haunting creatures that could have been picked; am I the only one who noticed that these names are also from the titles of a particular video game series?

    Ghosts ‘n Goblins… Ghouls ‘n Ghosts…

    Those games rule; especially the third one.

  5. emma v.t -  October 28, 2013 - 6:51 pm

    =3 Halloween

  6. emma v.t -  October 28, 2013 - 6:49 pm

    happy Halloween dictionary.com

  7. rebbeca -  October 28, 2013 - 4:16 pm


  8. hannah -  October 28, 2013 - 4:12 pm

    You guys are typing boring stuff boooooooo-rrrrrr-iiiiiiiiiiii-nnnnnnnnnng

    • raymond Schricker -  October 28, 2014 - 3:53 pm

      Would you like it better if they used a “ghost writer” instead?

  9. cutiepie -  October 28, 2013 - 3:45 pm

    ghost are white goblins are black the look like bats ghouls are like the people who starr in monster high

  10. Novelist -  October 28, 2013 - 2:56 pm

    Ooops, just noticed that the comments are all dated 2012. Wonder why last years post is in my inbox? Has recycling become popular @ dictionary.com?

  11. patrick -  October 28, 2013 - 12:35 pm

    u are cool

  12. Novelist -  October 28, 2013 - 11:49 am

    Why are all of these posts marked as October 31st & November 1st when it’s only October 28th? Happy Trick or Treating everyone! Enjoy your candy – your dentist has a Mercedes payment to make…

  13. mackayta mann -  October 28, 2013 - 11:26 am

    I agree?? :)

  14. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  October 28, 2013 - 9:58 am

    Ghosts do not exist. Once you’re dead, you’re dead, and your soul does not come back to Earth. According to the preacher from the movie “Love at First Bite,” “Once you is dead, you is dead, and there ain’t nobody gonna bring you back once you is gone.” (This is the point where the coffin creaks open, and Dracula sits up and says, “Good evening” in a Transylvanian accent.) But anyway, even if ghosts did exist, they’re not scary to me. They’re just sad. Think of Ghost Story Island in Poptropica for some good examples.

  15. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  October 28, 2013 - 9:55 am

    Sheesh, you do NOT have first comment.
    karima sultana, Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Even (which means evening.) It is the day before All Saints’ Day, when the Catholics celebrate all the saints. However, Halloween began as a Celtic festival. The Celtics believed that ghosts and spirits, both good and evil, came back to Earth. So they disguised themselves in hopes their ghostly visitors wouldn’t recognize them and they put out offerings of food to appease the spirits. But nowadays Halloween is only about dressing up, having fun, and eating candy. To commemorate All Saints’ Day into the bargain, my family prays for everyone we meet while trick-or-treating. (In case you don’t know, that’s when kids dress up in costumes and walk around the neighborhood knocking on people’s doors. The neighbors hand out candy to them.) And that’s Halloween for you.
    denzlestrife, I think I’ve experienced what you described. Sometimes I’m “half-awake” and I have quick little “dreams” that I can never remember afterwards. Then I feel like I’m falling onto my bed. I can actually feel the fall; it’s part of the dream. Oh, and the correct term is “goth,” not “gothic.” Gothic refers to a period of medieval European history, i.e. a Gothic cathedral. Also it’s “hallucinations,” not “hellucionations.”

  16. Notfurlong -  October 28, 2013 - 8:43 am

    “Goblin…But too often, he hides valuable household items, kicks people, and erupts in rage when he doesn’t get enough food.” Safe to say that all children pass through a goblin phase. lol

  17. adriam -  October 28, 2013 - 7:13 am

    DON ‘T BE DUM goblins, and ghosts are not real so don’t be scared

  18. Adam Kielich -  October 28, 2013 - 7:02 am

    Those are a lot of links in one blog post.

  19. denzlestrife -  November 1, 2012 - 7:51 am

    btw. maybey the reason’s we see the’se thing’s is because of a little phenomenon called (R.E.M.) though we only do it while we’re sleeping,some of us ,like myself, have the tendancies to be half-awake. now im only 16 years of age but im gothic lol so i got time to think and ponder and such… anyway you’re half-awake, so your body can still perform R.E.M. fyi(R.E.M. is rapid eye movement it is what cuases us to dream) so that bieng said, those people who said they have seen ghost or felt thing’s such as when your half-awke some tend to feel as if they are floating away, while having r.e.m in this state of manner you could expierience strong hellucionations possibly such as ghost,goblins,or ghouls. haha im just being logical but everyone earns something new everyday

  20. denzlestrife -  November 1, 2012 - 6:42 am

    i loved the kittle darkness lesson there bro nice going i never would have thought about it like that

  21. Sheesh -  October 31, 2012 - 6:42 pm

    FIRST COMMENT!!! And happy halloween!!!

  22. Happy Halloween! | No Other Appetite -  October 31, 2012 - 1:46 pm

    [...] said, there have been a multitude of Halloween-related specials this week.  Today’s article, What is the precise difference between ghouls, goblins, and ghosts? is definitely worth checking out.  You might THINK that you know the differences, but, well, you [...]

  23. Steven -  October 31, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    I really like reading these short articles on history, folk tale, or legends. They are really interesting… like this one and the Prometheus one, I remember reading a while back. Thanks dictionary.com

  24. edson chinyavanhu -  October 31, 2012 - 10:42 am

    None of these exists its only the actual result of. Fear of somethi one doesn’t know.infact I haven’t seen any of this shit

  25. Jo -  October 31, 2012 - 9:49 am

    very cool!

  26. Phillip Bracha -  October 31, 2012 - 9:07 am

    People ask, why are we so scared when the lights go out?

    The answer is simple: less vision.

    When the lights go out, our vision is impared making it harder to see in the dark. Even after our eyes ajust to the darkness are minds are still scare. the only time this does not happen is when you are tired and your mind wants to drift off into that neverending dreamland that lasts only about 8 seconds.

    When darkness enshrouds us, our minds instantly asume somthing is wrong and therefore makes your body become (or at leas try to) more aware of its surroundings, which is why our eyes ajust. We focus more.

    Now, why we are scared more is bcause when the lights go out we are more, for lack of a better word, Defenseless. think of it this way; you are alone minding your own business when a friend jumps up from behind you and you jump out of fright, well in darkness its like that all the time because, untill our eyes ajust, they play tricks on you. Look at yourself into a mirror in semi-darkness. you will notice your eyes look dark and empty and your skin is dark in many places. It seems a bit unerving.

    So a simple way to put it is… in a sence most humans, even as adults, are scared of the dark

  27. John -  October 31, 2012 - 7:39 am

    karima sultana: In answer to your question, research “All Saint’s Day”, “All Hallow’s Day”, and “All Hallow’s Eve”. All Hallow’s Eve became “Halloween”.

  28. daniel -  October 31, 2012 - 7:38 am


  29. abeeha -  October 31, 2012 - 7:29 am

    ummm ghosts :( are !

  30. denzlestrife -  October 31, 2012 - 6:56 am

    i agree that ghost are probly the worst of them all

  31. Alex norman -  October 31, 2012 - 6:50 am

    Happy Halloween dictionarycom

  32. Rose Rettrew -  October 31, 2012 - 3:56 am

    Keep fascinating me with the detailed explanations and interesting topics that sometimes surprise me- keep doing HOT WORD!

  33. josh -  October 31, 2012 - 3:38 am

    happy halloween eveyone hope we see some ghosts

  34. Anomynous -  October 30, 2012 - 10:50 pm

    I dont like any one of them

  35. cinnamuffin23 -  October 30, 2012 - 8:20 pm

    Adding on to the information on ghouls, they are often depicted as possessing blood-red eyes and teeth like the curved blades of Arab knives- the kind designed for rending flesh. They spread disease wherever they went and were typically described as faceless. Most lived underground in holes in the earth.

    Also, when they mention the name ‘ghul’, it should be said that the proper way to refer to them if you’re going off the Arabic term is ‘al-ghul’, both for individuals and the collective whole. The name ended up being given to a star, although slightly altered to Algol. Another nickname for it, this one from the Greeks, is The Eye of Medusa because it flickered and was said to be a demonic star by both cultures.

    The more you know! Happy Halloween!

  36. Bat -  October 30, 2012 - 6:29 pm

    Ghosts they really do.
    One could experience this unique phenomena if he/she visits Mongolia for a Shaman. Shamans in Mongolia (holy people into which upper sky heavenly ghosts come) share their body with heavenly ghosts(heavenly ghosts-those designated ones who have spotted their particular shaman long time ago even before they were born), and practice a unique exercise i.g. unlike other African drug sniffing way of receiving heavenly ghosts, they make use of naturally grown aromatic grass, burn it to give out smoke, and in their special clothing and drum they carry out the activity. Hence, from my experience watching on TV the scenes of North American Indian shamans, I suppose the way Mongolian shamans receive their heavenly ghosts into their body is frankly the same in a way.
    Shamans see through you and foretell your future, and also tell you what’s right and wrong.
    Usually those heavenly ghosts choose to land onto their descendants to assume a real body form and have usual talks with their blood related new generation about rights and wrongs, and the descendants (current shamans) without knowing are almost forced to receive their ancestors(heavenly ghosts).

    The destined people (shamans) eventually find out that they are designated should receive the heavenly ghosts, otherwise, you start to undergo a usually a severe illness or any symptom of illness that is very tricky which is hard to be diagnosed. By doing this, the heavenly ghosts are not doing a bad thing, but this is the only way they could possibly let themselves know that they have the intention of getting in touch with their descendants and guide their lives.

    Last, heavenly ghosts are capable of fighting against goblins. They can combine their power as one as they have their particular kingdom-like community, and each and every heavenly ghosts are ranked titles according to how much good deed they have done to their descendants’ well-being and the title enables them to possess power and gain respect among the heavenly ghosts in the divine world. All this makes me wonder how big the eternal universe is.

  37. Gary -  October 30, 2012 - 6:05 pm

    Ghost r the most ruthless creatures there is

  38. Reece -  October 30, 2012 - 6:04 pm

    ~REECE :) <3

  39. Reece -  October 30, 2012 - 6:02 pm

    huh…… i never knew so much about ghosts, goblins, and ghouls….. thanks…… happy halloween dictionary.com! :)

  40. Nshera -  October 30, 2012 - 5:10 pm

    I send my blessings to you, Odyseuss. Halloween is demonic. Just felt the need to tell all my fellow Americans that Trick-or-Treat. Be careful of the candy you eat. :-(

  41. emma -  October 30, 2012 - 4:52 pm

    Odyseuss, where have you seen a demon!?!

  42. Preston -  October 30, 2012 - 3:54 pm

    So, I have a pretty good inclination to suspect that my little sister is, in reality, a goblin. Thanks dictionary.com my suspicions are finally confirmed.

  43. cariyana -  October 30, 2012 - 3:20 pm

    Happy Halloween to all a good night

  44. Ella Newell -  October 30, 2012 - 2:48 pm

    HAPPY HALLOWEEN TO ALL! Please tell me what u are gonna be for halloween on my email ENawesome@gmail.com because I need a list of KOOLIO costumes for my website! Keep me posted (on email). Thank you!!!!! XD ~Awesome Ella GREEN MONKEY

  45. Ella Newell -  October 30, 2012 - 2:40 pm

    I think that ghouls are truly, amazingly, disturbingly more discusting than everything else. They remind me of my little brothers theory of THE BOOGEY MAN! I think that everyone else agrees with me too. Although, if u see some horror flicks, u see that some ghost movies are kind-of gorry (please excuse my misspelled words) like the Poltgergeist, some of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer tv shows, and the Paranomal Activity movies. Now goblins, they are miny dwarfs that are just plain weird and and strange. They can be creapy some times but there is nothing gross about them except for their drool. Lol. So back to ghouls, they drool, and are trickey, small tricksters, remind me of Lepracouhns, (which kind of freak me out) and look puke with legs and arms along with a brain (trickster brain)!!!!!!

    ~Ella The GREEN MONKEY (awesome!)

  46. Parachick -  July 14, 2012 - 11:30 pm

    Ghouls are the most grotesque and brutal of all.

  47. Odyseuss -  November 29, 2010 - 1:15 pm

    I have seen a demon before

  48. MamaMalia -  November 1, 2010 - 4:56 pm

    anything but black & white: re:Wim Wenders
    It’s “Wings of Desire”… & as I was googling it, was remembering “City of Angels” -both lovely in their very different ways

  49. Dord -  November 1, 2010 - 12:31 pm

    I was quite amused by the link to the explanation of the word dord. To think that a little mistake like that could lead to a new “ghost word”. I think I am going to start using it now…

  50. blake -  November 1, 2010 - 9:47 am

    happy late halloween to all

  51. #1 Skillet Fan -  November 1, 2010 - 9:34 am

    Hmm…….I wonder how many links dictionary.com could put in one blog. JW

    ~Chick Drummer~

  52. AMY-LOU -  November 1, 2010 - 9:15 am

    Also why is it you aren’t scared of something but when you’re alone and the lights aren’t on you become so scared it is un real????????????

  53. lalaguy -  November 1, 2010 - 9:04 am

    I think goblins are

  54. karima sultana -  November 1, 2010 - 8:17 am

    we are wondered by looking at your halloween festival. It’s amazing. we want to know your culture why do you celebrate this?

  55. SR -  November 1, 2010 - 7:53 am

    “Goblin…But too often, he hides valuable household items, kicks people, and erupts in rage when he doesn’t get enough food.”
    Sounds like one of my relatives during PMS.

  56. frank -  November 1, 2010 - 7:46 am

    nice topic, but im really having doubts about where you guys get your info.

  57. Amélie Lisle -  October 31, 2010 - 8:06 pm

    Happy Halloween! Thanks, Hot Word! :)

  58. anything but black and white -  October 31, 2010 - 4:10 pm

    In the movie by Wim Wenders about a couple decade ago about angels over Berlin city, I don’t remember the title, a small scene of a Nazi officer
    was seen then cut to angels wondering.

    little monsters are something like that;it could have been a whole Nazi movie but it was not.

  59. Jack Cervantes -  October 31, 2010 - 3:39 pm

    Happy Halloween Dictionary.com!

  60. BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  October 31, 2010 - 1:39 pm

    [...] Ghouls, Goblins and Ghosts, and even the Gargoyles are toast. — We prefer meaty — Hot, sour and sweetly — a good old fashioned Pig Roast. — The Horror is reality squared — since not too many have cared — for anyone else or the earth of our birth — it’s paying the Piper for all that it’s worth — is what it is eventually shared. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  61. Jen -  October 31, 2010 - 12:53 pm

    I find all of this stuff fascinating. Thanks, Hot Word!

  62. Michael Dadona -  October 31, 2010 - 12:43 pm


    The wrong part is when we described ghosts or ghouls or goblins our imagination shrouded with its bad-ugly face. About bad spirit explained in general about them, yes, I agree. But, the their physical appearance on sight like what has been illustrated by the embedded and published above, I can’t believe it.


    When an imagination crossed over profound experience, there comes the scary element in our mind, brain, and blood. Most of us scared for things we’ve not yet seen. At this point, imagination turns into illusion.


    When we walk alone into graveyard during day time, the surrounding never scared us, I mean we can still withstand and our mind is under control. But why? Why we feel so scare once the time of visit is getting dark?


    “Darkness” in having profound experience completely with knowledge with those elements of; ghosts, ghouls, and goblins; making us enjoy the unnecessary scary thing about them.

    • Manny -  October 28, 2014 - 4:59 pm


  63. Cyberquill -  October 31, 2010 - 10:22 am

    Ghouls are a staple in the Hungarian diet. It’s called ghoulash.


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