For the meaning:

figurative: a profound difference between people, viewpoints, feelings, etc.

Is a chasm or a gulf generally interpreted as being a larger difference?

A: The gulf between rich and poor has grown into a chasm?

B: The difference is not merely a chasm, but a gulf.


Let's consider their geological meanings.

A chasm is a deep opening in the earth.

A gulf is deep wide chasm of water.

By that logic, a gulf is really just a type of chasm. So it's impossible to determine which is actually larger.

However, if we are permitted to be unscientific: usually when I come across the two terms, I tend to think of a gulf as being much larger because the first chasm that comes to my mind is the Grand Canyon, whereas the first gulf that comes to mind is the Gulf of Mexico.

The gulf vs. chasm comparison is really very ambiguous.

  • I agree geologically. The perspective on Grand Canyon vs Gulf of Mexico is appreciated. Others?
    – chmullig
    Feb 13 '11 at 22:07
  • A gulf is a large bay; that is, a large area of water mostly (but not entirely) enclosed by land. It doesn't have to be deep.
    – Nick
    Feb 13 '11 at 22:08

A sentence such as "The gulf between rich and poor has grown into a chasm." is really using a kind of mixed metaphor. As others have shown, a gulf is more about width, a chasm about depth. One is filled with water, the other air.

The temptation to use them together arises because both are geographical terms often co-opted to mean a large separation that is difficult to reduce or bridge. However we compare molehills with mountains - we don't compare mountains with rivulets or molehills with torrents.

It would be much better to express the thought using words which more naturally form a pair. For example: gulf and ocean.


"Gulf" is used metaphorically to mean a separation between two things with nothing in between. A chasm is a very evocative, dramatic word, implying a very deep, steep hole or crack in the earth. Chasm means impassible depth, gulf does not.


A chasm is more menacing since it is more difficult to cross than a gulf. For a chasm that's 300 m wide with equal height on both sides, you need at least a hot air balloon to cross. Whereas a gulf that's 300m wide can be crossed by swimming.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.