‘Grizzly Bear’ vs’ Brown Bear' vs ‘Black Bear’ vs ‘Polar Bear’: What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on June 14, 2023

Do you want to know the difference between 'grizzly bear' vs. 'brown bear' vs. 'black bear' vs. 'polar bear?' If so, you are in the right place.

Here is a short answer:

  • A 'grizzly bear' is a type of 'brown bear' with long claws, brown fur, rounded ears, and a hump at their shoulders. 
  • A 'brown bear' is a group of medium-sized bears, including the grizzly and Kodiak bears. 
  • 'Black bears' are the smallest bears in North America, with the largest, most widely distributed population. 
  • The 'polar bear' is a white bear found in cold icy climates like Alaska and the North Pole. 

The answer above is a brief overview of each term. However, there is much more to learn. So, keep reading to learn the many ways these bears differ.

What is the Difference Between 'Grizzly Bear' vs. 'Brown Bear' vs. 'Black Bear' vs. 'Polar Bear?'

Each of these bears is different in size, color, demeanor, native habitat, and even population size and distribution.

In terms of size, below you will find a list from smallest to largest size:

  • Black bear
  • Brown bear
  • Grizzly bear
  • Polar Bear

Black bears are the most common and smallest variety. Regarding aggressiveness or risk of attack, the 'grizzly bear,' 'brown bear,' and 'polar bear' are more likely to attack than the smaller, more common 'black bear.'

If you plan to spend time camping or hiking in a rural area or state park, you need to know precisely what types of wild animals you might encounter and how to act if you encounter one of these apex predators.

When to Use 'Grizzly Bear' vs. 'Brown Bear' vs. 'Black Bear' vs. 'Polar Bear'

All four of these terms describe bears. So, how do you know which to use and when?

  • Use 'grizzly bear' to describe the smaller brown bears that live in the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone Park, Glacier National Park, Idaho, and parts of Canada.

For example, you may hear someone say:

We must look out for brown bears while camping at Yellowstone National Park.

  • Use 'brown bear' to describe Kodiak or grizzly bears.

For example, you could say:

If you see a brown bear in Alaska, it could be a Kodiak or grizzly bear.

  • Use 'black bear' to describe the smaller black bears common in the United States and Canada.

For example, I might say:

Black bears are the most common species in the U.S. and Canada. Although smaller than Brown Bears, Grizzly Bears, and Polar Bears, they are still dangerous. 

  • Use 'polar bears' to refer to the giant white bears that live in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Greenland.

For example, you might hear someone say:

When you visit Alaska, you can see the massive polar bears hunting for seals.

Definition of 'Grizzly Bear': What Does 'Grizzly Bear' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of a 'grizzly bear' is:

  • A large brown bear that lives in Northwestern North America.

Definition of 'Brown Bear': What Does 'Brown Bear' Mean?

The same resource defines a 'brown bear' as:

  • A variety of bears that were once common throughout western North America, China, Mexico, and Europe but now include just the Grizzly and Kodiak varieties, which live in a more limited region in North America.

Definition of 'Black Bear': What Does 'Black Bear' Mean?

A 'black bear' is:

  • A smaller variety of bears is common throughout North America, ranging in color from white to black.

Definition of 'Polar Bear': What Does 'Polar Bear' Mean?

The definition of a 'polar bear' is:

  • Cream-colored carnivorous bears common in arctic regions.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Grizzly Bear' vs. 'Brown Bear' vs. 'Black Bear' vs. 'Polar Bear'

Now, let's look at the pronunciations of these terms. Knowing how to pronounce each correctly will help you use them more confidently.

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'grizzly bear':

griz-lē ber

  • You can use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'brown bear' correctly:

braun ber

  • The phonetic spelling of 'black bear' is:

blak ber 

  • Here is the phonetic spelling of 'polar bear':

po-ler ber

Sample Sentences Using 'Grizzly Bear' vs. 'Brown Bear' vs. 'Black Bear' vs. 'Polar Bear'

Finally, here are some sample sentences using each of these noun names for bears.

Grizzly Bear

  • Grizzly bears are giant brown bears that live in parts of the United States and Canada.
  • The grizzly is a ferocious bear.
  • Grizzly bears are more than twenty times more likely to attack humans than black bears.
  • Your best chance of surviving a grizzly bear attack is to lay down flat on your stomach and play dead.

Brown Bear

  • A brown bear could be a Kodiak or grizzly bear.
  • Brown bears are more dangerous than black bears.
  • However, brown bears are less common than black bears.
  • Brown bears can weigh between 180 and 1,300 lbs, depending on the type and gender.

Black Bear

  • Black bears are smaller than brown bears or polar bears.
  • While black bears are smaller than other varieties, they are still dangerous.
  • Black bears stand a little taller than the average human man and weigh anywhere from 180 to 660 lbs.

Polar Bear

  • There is a man named Mark who owns a polar bear he raised since it was eight weeks old.
  • Polar bears can be extremely dangerous, but they are less likely to attack than brown bears.
  • The relationship that Mark has with his polar bear is impressive. They seem to love each other.
  • Polar bears are known for their distinctive light cream color.

The Last Word on the Difference Between 'Grizzly Bear' vs. 'Brown Bear' vs. 'Black Bear' vs. 'Polar Bear'

We covered a ton of information. So, let's do a quick recap: 

  • A grizzly bear is a type of brown bear that is smaller than the Kodiak bear. 
  • The term 'brown bear' includes Kodiak and grizzly bears. 
  • 'Black bears' are smaller, less vicious bears common in North America.
  • 'Polar bears' are cream-colored bears that are common in arctic areas. 

If you ever get mixed up about the difference between 'grizzly bear' vs. 'brown bear' vs. 'black bear' vs. 'polar bear' in the future, you can always return for a quick review. You can also read through the other guides in the confusing words section here to learn about other commonly mistaken and misused English terms. They are an excellent resource for expanding your vocabulary and learning essential grammar rules.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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