I've encountered the phrase and looked up online, but didn't find a good answer. They (link1 link2) were basically saying it's a unjust matter, without explaining the exact connotation and what does 'grave' mean in this phrase.

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    Grave = serious Nov 24, 2014 at 4:57
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    @NS.X. It's great you did some research on the internet before asking your question. But did you also look up the words in a good dictionary? A good dictionary will supply the meaning for each word. In addition, the sites that you link to are not reliable sources of information.
    – user6951
    Nov 24, 2014 at 5:36
  • @CarSmack I should have mentioned that I did check with a few online dictionaries (e.g. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grave) which don't have meaning for this particular phrase. I saw the meaning for the word 'grave' but since I haven't learned any other phrases in which 'grave' uses that meaning, I asked this question. The dictionary entry may be sufficient for you or general Indo-European language speakers to understand the phrase with confidence, but not for me.
    – NS.X.
    Nov 24, 2014 at 21:15

2 Answers 2


This is close to being a dictionary question. Wiktionary gives this relevant definition for "grave":

Serious, in a negative sense; important, formidable. [from 19th c.]

This pretty much covers it. However, what the dictionary doesn't say is that this is a "sticky" adjective. (I'm sure there's a more technical grammar term for it, but I don't know it).

What that means is that you will almost always hear "grave" used to modify a small number of words, notably "injustice" or "insult" or "error." They are not quite set phrases or cliches, but they have "stuck" together.

So while you will never hear a native speaker say:

I had a grave realization this morning.

and you would be unlikely to hear even something like:

Gather round; I'm afraid I have grave news.

you might well hear someone say:

The lack of celery in your beef jerky is a grave injustice to vegetarians.

  • Excellent point! I wonder if we should point out that this definition of "grave" has fallen out of common usage outside of these phrases, and even these phrases are becoming rare.
    – user11628
    Jun 8, 2016 at 20:21
  • Wiktionary has a really, really, really wrong date. In Hamlet, written around 1601 the mortally wounded Mercutio makes a pun on the word, "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." Sep 9, 2019 at 3:22
  • @Malvolio - You mean Romeo and Juliet! Sep 18, 2021 at 11:07
  • @KateBunting — haha, of course I did. Funny how the mind works. Sep 21, 2021 at 4:15

It means injustice, which is so serious or great that it is a cause for concern or worry.

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