Words that end in -gry

GRRRRR . . . I mean -gry.

A question frequently asked of reference librarians, word mavens, etc., is

"There are three words in the English language that
end in -gry. One is hungry and one is angry;
what is the third?"
Here is a picture of a reference librarian who has heard this question one time too many:

(Not really. Click on the painting to find out more about the artist.)

Actually, many words end in -gry, including gry itself, although all but angry and hungry are rare, foreign, obscure or obsolete.The most common "answers" are aggry, a burial bead from Ghana, puggry, a scarf worn around the neck in India to protect the head from the sun, and anhungry, an obsolete form of hungry that was used once in one of Shakespeare's less-popular plays (Coriolanus, Act I, Scene I, line 209); this association with the Bard is enough to earn it a place in Merriam-Webster's Third New International (unabridged) Dictionary of the English Language. More words that end in -gry are listed below.

Gry is also, alone by itself, a word. In fact it's two completely separate words that can be found in large unabridged English dictionaries. (According to Merriam-Webster's Second New International (unabridged) Dictionary of the English Language, originally published in 1934, both are pronounced to rhyme with "cry.") One gry comes from Romany (the language of the Gypsies) and means "horse". The other gry comes from Greek and means "a trifle, a very small amount, a very short line". In the latter sense it has been used as an actual unit of measurement

"But none of those are the answer," you groan. "None of those are the third word." And you're right. None of them are. There is no answer.

The puzzle is WRONG.


"It's a fraud, it's a fake," says Will Shortz,
who is the puzzle editor of the New York Times and the host of a puzzle segment on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition (NPR, 11/10/96). The actual truth is that
NO other common English word ends in -gry! It's a trick question -- and the trick, at least in some versions, has been lost.

Thus there are a whole lot of "right answers" that have been proposed, depending on the wording of the puzzle as the person heard it. None of these are THE right answer, because there are so many different, mangled versions of the puzzle. Many people think there must be, though, or even that the version of the puzzle they've heard is the only true version, and its answer the only true answer. This is far from the case. As the puzzle has spread and permutated, there are many separate versions that are purported to be the "true" version and many separate answers purported to be the "true" answer.

Word-puzzle fans and reference librarians have been trying for years to track the question's history to find the original "right" answer. But to do that we need to know what the original wording of the question was.

A very early version, found in an old book by a member of the Stumpers list, goes like this:

"There are three words in the English language that end with 'gry'. Two of these are angry and hungry. The third word is a very common word, and you use it often. If you have read what I have told you, you will see that I have given you the third word. What is the third word? Think very carefully."

The next page of the book gave this answer:

"Three, the question has nothing to do with angry, hungry, or any of the many other obscure words that end in 'gry', it is a simple question asking you what the third word in the sentence is. As you take tests, remember this."

The full text of the e-mail containing this version is quoted at the bottom of this page.

As asked on the Bob Grant radio show (New York City) in 1975, which many experts believe to be the earliest documented version, it went:

"There are only 3 words in the English language, all adjectives, which end in -gry. Two are angry and hungry; the third word describes the state of the world today. What is it?"
(Several sources say this was "taken from an old book", which leaves open the question of whether it was from the same book referred to in the e-mail above, or whether there were already multiple forms of the puzzle going around.)

According to Ross Eckler of Word Ways magazine, while there are "nearly one hundred" words ending in -gry, none of them are common. But only one of them (besides angry and hungry) is an adjective, and that is meagry, a word found in the Oxford English Dictionary which means "meager." So meagry would seem to answer the question, at least in this form.

Yet another version that many believe is the original, "right" form of the question, goes thus:

"Two words that end in -gry are 'angry' and 'hungry'. There are three
words in the English language. What is the third word? It's a common word
that everyone knows."
In this case, the answer is the third word in the phrase "the English language", i.e. "language"! The part about "angry and hungry" turns out to be a red herring. (from COPYEDITING-L list and the rec.puzzles Usenet newsgroup's FAQ) People who don't know the trick to this puzzle, by changing the wording when they pass the question along, have mangled the question until there is no real answer! Most people now seem to accept this as the "real" answer.

A similar suggestion (from Charles Wiedemann of Hackettstown, NJ, printed in Marilyn Vos Savant's column in Parade magazine March 9, 1997) is that the original form was

"There are at least three words in the English language that end in G or Y.
One of them is "hungry" and another one is "angry". There is a third word, a
short one which you probably say every day. If you are listening carefully to
everything I say, you just heard me say it three times. What is it?"
When the listener gives up, you explain: "You assumed I said "G-R-Y", but in fact I said "G or Y", and the word is "say". Because so many people read Parade as part of their Sunday newspaper, this version is gaining ground.

The other word ending in -gry by Dave Friedman at http://www.fun2play.com/gry/ has still more links and yet another solution ("What is the third word" is not a question but the answer, he suggests)! Useless Knowledge (an apt summary of this whole thing!) quotes the form of the puzzle that would give this answer as follows:

There are two words that end with "gry".
Angry is one and hungry is another.
What is the third word.
Everyone uses it every day and
Everyone knows what it means.
If you have been listening,
I have already told you what the word is.

Notice that the third line "sounds" like a question when read.

In this version, what is the answer to the puzzle! (At least, I guess, when he's not playing second base.)

Still another variation which appeared on Stumpers is worded as follows:

There are three words in the English language that end in gry. The first ONE is hungry, the second is angry, and the third everyONE uses everyday. If you have read this carefully I have given a clue.

Worded this way, with such emphasis on "one", one could make the case that one possible answer is "one", in other words, the "third ONE".

In short, the "answer" to the question is liable to be any of the following words:

  • language
  • three
  • what
  • one
  • say
or possibly, just possibly
  • meagry
(The latter answer, I think, is for those real purists who really want a third word ending in -gry.)

A unique answer to the puzzle was sent to me in an e-mail message:

Subject: GRY. The answer ...
To: lfundis@weir.net, fundisl@weirton.lib.wv.us
From: "Andrew-J Gordon"
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2001 16:27:48 +0000

I am unconvinced by suggested answers to the problem ('language', 'say', 'three' and so on) and that much of the wording is irrelevent.

That would not be very elegant.

Also, statements of the problem like the one below been rephrased to ensure this these are even possible solutions:

"Think of words ending in -GRY. Angry and hungry are two of them. There
are only three words in the English language. What is the third word? The
word is something that everyone uses every day. If you have listened
carefully, I have already told you what it is."

The original (shorter) conundrum, as I know it, is:

"There are three words in the english language that end GRY. One is angry, another is hungry.
The third word is something that everyone uses. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is!"

The answer is 'every', and the logic is as follows:

There are three words, ending G, R and Y.

The first is 'fuming', ending in 'G' and meaning angry.
The second is 'eager', ending in 'R' and meaning hungry.
The third is 'every', ending in 'Y' and clearly something that the word 'EVERYone' uses. Also, you have been told it, if you listened carefully.

This solution also works for many of the re-phrased conundrums, without dismissing the other parts of the clue.

Please tell me if you agree!

Actually, I don't agree with this solution, but then I don't agree with any of the others either! Still, it is a different approach to the question, so I thought I'd include it. Note that, again, this solution depends on a variant wording of the original question.

The real trick, therefore, to answering the puzzle -- because it is a trick -- is pinning down the exact wording. But it all depends on the wording, which seems to shift from time to time! The bottom line, as they say, is that none of these answers really makes sense, which is why this question is sometimes considered to be a practical joke, not a riddle!


One version that does almost make sense was sent to me recently by an e-mail correspondent, along with this link to his page on -gry. {Note: when checked November 29, 2006, that page no longer existed at that website.] In this variant, the phrase "three words in the English language that end in 'gry'" is asking for a three-word answer, a phrase or sentence three words long, that ends in -gry, not three separate words that each end in -gry, and indeed for a three-word phrase which would be common enough that "everyone uses [it] every day." The most common such sentence, one that an average person might well say every day, is probably "I am hungry," so that is his candidate for the answer. He claims to have heard this answer from someone who first heard the puzzle in the 1950s, which would make it a very early form of the puzzle. What's more, it makes more sense than most of the other candidates do. Without more support (another witness who heard it in the '50s would be nice) I'm not prepared to declare this version the official one true Answer, but it's an interesting variation. Nonetheless, most people hearing "three words in the English language that end in 'gry'", especially when the next sentence is "Two words that end in 'gry' are 'hungry' and 'angry'", are going to try to think of a third word that ends in -gry rather than of a three-word sentence ending in -gry, which still makes it a trick question!


The same person mentioned another twist -- he claims to have heard "energy" suggested as an answer, which would change the "gry" to "rgy". Although this adds another twist to the puzzle, it doesn't fit the rules the question itself sets. After all, to paraphrase the site that's no longer there, if you can rearrange the 'gry,' there are many more than 3 words that would work (orgy makes four :) )! Nor does it fit the "'already told you' condition -- that the answer is inherent or even contained in the puzzle, which is a part of so many proposed solutions. In short, in my opinion, this is a very poor attempt at an "answer".

By the way, gry itself is actually, not just one word, but two completely separate words that can be found in large unabridged dictionaries. One gry comes from Romany (the language of the Gypsies) and means "horse". The other gry comes from Greek and means "a trifle, a very small amount, a very short line". In the latter sense it has been used as an actual unit of measurement.


Other -gry words listed in various dictionaries include anhungry, begry (beggary), braggry, conyngry (a rabbit warren), hongry, huggrymuggry, iggry (to hurry up), land-hungry, malgry, menangry, messagry, overangry, podagry (a plant disease aka dodder), pottingry (an apothecary), skugry (secrecy), vergry . . . and also various place names and surnames that end in -gry.

A long list of -gry words is on the Internet as part of the rec.puzzles group's FAQ, at
http://einstein.et.tudelft.nl/~arlet/puzzles/sol.cgi/language/english/spelling/gry
The word nugry was invented by Tom Maciukenas just to provide a third word. But having not caught on, it's not "common" and so doesn't answer the question as usually understood. Nugry means someone who posts the " -gry" question to rec.puzzles (who are utterly sick of this question!) or who otherwise fails to follow established procedures.

In Polish, gry is a word meaning "game"; it comes up often in Internet searches for video or computer games.

And in two of Ursula K. LeGuin's recent novels, Gifts (2004) and Voices (2006), Gry is the name of a character.

(A list of 40 -gry words that are valid Scrabble words -- that is, words in English-language dictionaries which are not hyphenated or proper names -- also used to be available on another web site, but doesn't seem to be there anymore. If I find it again, I'll put the link back up.)


More web sites that deal with the gry question:

-Gry Words: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect by Richard Lederer
http://pw1.netcom.com/~rlederer/gry.htm
Lederer, a well-known writer on words and language, calls the -gry question, "one of the most outrageous and time-wasting linguistic hoaxes in our nation's history" with "no answer, at least no satisfactory answer." (He proposes substituting "a much more challenging and humane puzzle:
"Name a common word, besides tremendous, stupendous, and horrendous, that ends in -dous."
And after listing 32 uncommon -dous words, he proclaims the answer to be hazardous.)

Hennepin County (Minnesota) Public Library's Fugitive Fact File
http://www.hennepin.lib.mn.us/pub/search/fff/FullDisplay.cfm?ID=142

words ending in -gry, from Jesse's Word of the Day, by Random House editor Jesse Sheidlower, who calls
it an "insidiously annoying riddle." http://www.randomhouse.com/jesse/?date=19961129

A "bad puzzle gone berserk" is what Robert Beard, a linguistics professor at Bucknell University, calls it on his page "The Third English Word Ending on 'gry'" http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/rbeard/gry.html -- he feels that none of the several versions are ambiguous enough to work as a true puzzle. (One of his correspondents, however, suggests that if "gry" could come at the front rather than the end of a word, perhaps gryphon is common enough to be an answer.)

By now, or GRY Puzzle Explained, by Jerry Taylor
http://www.greeceny.com/taylor/topics/grypuzzle.htm
Taylor explains the "original" wording of what I called above the red herring version, which he puts as,
"There are only three words in the English language. What is the third word?
The word is something that everyone uses every day. If you have listened carefully,
I have already told you what it is."
The key is the phrase "the English language." In this three-word phrase, the third word
is simply the word "language."
One interesting thing in Taylor's scenario is that "-gry" is not mentioned at all, not even hungry or angry!

-GRY, ENGLISH WORDS ENDING IN from St. Joseph County (Indiana) Public Library
http://sjcpl.lib.in.us/Databases/ROFM.acgi?_action=GET&_database=InfoFile&_field=InfoFileCalc&_recID=125

The Word Detective by Evan Morris has two discussions of -gry at
http://www.word-detective.com/back-g.html#gry1 and again at
http://www.word-detective.com/back-k.html#gry2
as well as a much longer essay on the topic, Gry, Gry, Everywhere, and Not a Clue in Sight, at
http://www.word-detective.com/gry.html

I Spy Gry! Riddle Me No Riddles, by Michael Quinion
http://quinion.com/words/articles/gry.htm
discusses the history of riddles and their current debased form ("more a play on words than something that demands thought and skill in its solving") before tackling the riddle of this particular riddle.

The Internet Public Library's Frequently Asked Reference Questions (FARQ) list tackles the mystery of words that end in -gry at http://www.ipl.org/ref/QUE/FARQ/gryFARQ.html

And the Tempe, Arizona, Public Library also summarizes the dilemma of Those Dreaded "-gry" Words at http://www.tempe.gov/library/netsites/gry.htm

The truly brave of heart used to be able to search "gry" (or "hungry and angry") in the Stumpers List archives. Stumpers was an e-mail list of reference librarians and other smart people, that bandied this question around many times over the years -- "gry" came up so often that it became a list joke that it was time to change the oil in your car, every 3 months or 3000 miles, because the gry question had popped up again. So there were many dozens of postings to sort through (several of them mine). Alas, Stumpers as a list is no more, and the archives as a website is no longer extant. Plans to revive them at the site of the successor mailing list, Project Wombat, have not yet come to fruition, though some people have luck finding posts on individual topics via web-search engines such as Google, which archive old material.

One such Stumpers message, referred to near the top of this page, is copied here in full:

>Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 20:55:23 -0500 (CDT)
>From: C V
>Subject: gry and other short subjects
>To: stumpers-l@crf.cuis.edu
>Comments: STUMPERS-L - A Service of Dominican University
>
>Talk about serendipity. New neighbor was up in her attic, and found a few
>pages of a book ... "Things to Think About" ... it was just 8 pages, and
>they were from the middle. They were all more or less riddles.
>
>"Someone offers to give you 5 cents if you can jump across the street.
>Take it or leave it? What do you think?" next page, "Take it. Walk
>across the street and jump."
>
>"Do you think you could bite 2 inches from the mantle? After you think
>about it, turn the page" , next page "Of course you can, get a yard
>stick, and measure two inches away from the mantle and bite!"
>
>"How many pieces of string would you need to fly a kite to the moon?
>Think a minute!" next page "Only one, but it would have to be a long
>one!"
>
>AND THE LAST ONE ...
>
>"There are three words in the English language that end with 'gry'. Two
>of these are angry and hungry. The third word is a very common word, and
>you use it often. If you have read what I have told you, you will see
>that I have given you the third word. What is the third word? Think
>very carefully." next page "Three, the question has nothing to do with
>angry, hungry, or any of the many other obscure words that end in 'gry',
>it is a simple question asking you what the third word in the sentance
>is. As you take tests, remember this."
>
>I have no idea who the author was, or the publisher. From the paper, it
>would guess it was from the 40s, as it looks like WW2 type paper. Connie

(NOTE: I attempted to find this book in several databases including the Library of Congress Online Catalog,Amazon.com, Bibliofind, Advanced Book Exchange, and Alibris, with no luck; nothing that came up seemed to be either a book of puzzles or of the right age, much less both at once.)


© Lois Aleta Fundis
This page was last updated November 29, 2006.
(Important note: Although a great deal of this information comes from other sources, the design and wording of much of it is mine and therefore is protected by copyright.)

If you have comments about this page, please send them to me at lfundis@weir.net
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