What’s The Difference Between Ghouls, Goblins, And Ghosts?

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

Is a ghost also a ghoul? What about a goblin—is it related to either of these two? Are these staples of the supernatural spine-chilling synonyms?

What is a ghost?

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. If something is evanescent, it is also short-livedbrief, or vanishing, to name a few synonyms

The word ghost developed from the Old English gast, which 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.”)

What is a ghoul?

The details behind the word ghoul are far more malevolent and may have inspired a horror film or two. To be malevolent is to be sinisterhellish, or rancorous.

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.” A ghoul is also defined as a “grave robber” or one who “revels in what is revolting.” (Yeah, that’s not quite in the same category as Casper, the Friendly Ghost.)

What is a goblin?

Like ghouls, goblins are malicious, though perhaps not as nightmarish as the flesh eaters above. A goblin is a “grotesque sprite or elf,” and some can assume human and animal form and assail people. If a creature is malicious, it can also be described as evil-minded, injurious, or vengeful.

Goblin comes from the German kobold. In German folklore, a kobold is a mischievous household spirit. Sometimes the kobold is helpful and sings to children. But too often, it hides valuable household items, kicks people, and erupts in rage when it doesn’t get enough food.

Are these synonyms?

As you can see, these three are not synonyms and have distinct names and traits. For example, a ghost is also known as a phantasm, poltergeist, specter, wraith, or eidolon. (Eidolon is related to idol and comes from the Greek eíd?lon, meaning “image, idol.”)

The word ghoul has fewer synonyms: grave robber or bogeyman are two. You might think of a goblin as a sprite, imp, or even a pixie (though you probably shouldn’t call you friend’s new hairstyle a “goblin cut”).

For example:

  • According to the sailors, the ghost appeared to be floating mysteriously near the shore.
  • The children swapped scary stories about a ghoul who lives in the cemetery and feasts on the dead.
  • The goblin loved to steal things from the townspeople for the sake of simply causing trouble.

Now you can sit around a fire, prepare the s’mores, and regale your family with some grim, ghastly, and accurate scary stories.


By the way, 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.

And whether it be a ghost, goblin, or ghoul … do you know if that spirit is your enemy or your nemesis? Watch below to find out the difference.

WATCH: Explain The Difference Between Enemy vs. Nemesis