AskDefine | Define afraid

Dictionary Definition

afraid adj
1 filled with fear or apprehension; "afraid even to turn his head"; "suddenly looked afraid"; "afraid for his life"; "afraid of snakes"; "afraid to ask questions" [syn: afraid(p)] [ant: unafraid(p)]
2 filled with regret or concern; used often to soften an unpleasant statement; "I'm afraid I won't be able to come"; "he was afraid he would have to let her go"; "I'm afraid you're wrong"
3 feeling worry or concern or insecurity; "She was afraid that I might be embarrassed"; "terribly afraid of offending someone"; "I am afraid we have witnessed only the first phase of the conflict"
4 having feelings of aversion or unwillingness; "afraid of hard work"; "affaid to show emotion"

User Contributed Dictionary



afrayed, affraide, past participle of afraien (“to affray”), from afrayer, from esfreer (see also afeard).


  • /əˈfɹeɪd/
  • Rhymes with: -eɪd


  1. Impressed with fear or apprehension; in fear; apprehensive.
    He is afraid of death.
    He is afraid to die.
    He is afraid that he will die.
  2. In the context of "colloquially|to soften a statement": regretful that (something undesirable is true)
    I am afraid I can not help you in this matter.

Usage notes

  • (Impressed with fear or apprehension; in fear; apprehensive): Afraid expresses a lesser degree of fear than terrified or frightened. It is often followed by the preposition of and the object of fear, or by an infinitive, or by a dependent clause, as shown in the examples above.


impressed with fear or apprehension; in fear; apprehensive
colloquially, to soften a statement: regretful that something undesirable is true

Extensive Definition

Fear is an emotional response to tangible and realistic dangers. Fear should be distinguished from anxiety, an emotion that often arises out of proportion to the actual threat or danger involved, and can be subjectively experienced without any specific attention to the threatening object.
Most fear is usually connected to pain (e.g., some fear heights because if they fall, they may suffer severe injury or even die upon landing). Behavioral theorists, like Watson and Ekman, have suggested that fear is one of several very basic emotions (e.g., joy and anger). Fear is a survival mechanism, and usually occurs in response to a specific negative stimulus.


The Old English term fǣr meant not the emotion engendered by a calamity or disaster but rather the event itself. The first recorded usage of the term "fear" with the sense of the “emotion of fear” is found in a medieval work written in Middle English and composed around 1290. The most probable explanation for the change in the meaning of the word fear is the existence in Old English of the related verb fǣran, which meant “to terrify, take by surprise.”


Serious fear is a response to some formidable impending peril, while trifling fear arises from confrontation with inconsequential danger.
Fear can be described by different terms in accordance with its relative degrees. Personal fear varies extremely in degree from mild caution to extreme phobia and paranoia. Fear is related to a number of emotional states including worry, anxiety, terror, fright, paranoia, horror, panic (social and personal), persecution complex and dread.
Fears may be a factor within a larger social network, wherein personal fears are synergetically compounded as mass hysteria.
  • Paranoia is a term used to describe a psychosis of fear, described as a heightened perception of being persecuted, false or otherwise. This degree of fear often indicates that one has changed their normal behavior in radical ways, and may have become extremely compulsive. Sometimes, the result of extreme paranoia is a phobia.
  • Distrust in the context of interpersonal fear, is sometimes explained as the inward feeling of caution, usually focused towards a person, representing an unwillingness to trust in someone else. Distrust is not a lack of faith or belief in someone, but a feeling of warning towards someone or something questionable or unknown. For example, one may "distrust" a stranger who acts in a way that is perceived as "odd." Likewise one may "distrust" the safety of a rusty old bridge across a 100 ft drop.
  • Terror refers to a pronounced state of fear - which usually occurs before the state of horror - when someone becomes overwhelmed with a sense of immediate danger. Also, it can be caused by perceiving the (possibly extreme) phobia. As a consequence, terror overwhelms the person to the point of making irrational choices and non-typical behavior.
Fear can also affect the subconscious and unconscious mind, most notably through nightmares.
Fear can also be imagined, and the side effects can also be imagined.


Although fear is an innate response, objects of fear can be learned. This has been studied in psychology as fear conditioning, beginning with Watson's Little Albert experiment in 1920. In this study, an 11-month-old boy was conditioned to fear a white rat in the laboratory. In the real world, fear may also be acquired by a traumatic accident. For example, if a child falls into a well and struggles to get out, he or she may develop a fear of wells, enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) or of water (aquaphobia).
Researchers have found that certain fears (e.g. animals, heights) are much more common than others (e.g. flowers, clouds). They are also much easier to induce in the laboratory. This phenomenon has been called preparedness. Physiologically, the fear response is linked to activity in the amygdala of the limbic system.
The experience of fear may also be influenced by social norms and values. In the early 20th century, many people feared polio, a disease which cripples the body part it affects, leaving the body part immobilized for the rest of one's life.


Further reading

  • Joanna Bourke (2005), Fear: a cultural history, Virago
  • Corey Robin (2004), Fear: the history of a political idea, Oxford University Press
  • Duenwald, Mary. "The Psychology of ...Facial Expressions" Discovery Magazine Vol. 26 NO. 1
  • Krishnamurti, J. (1995), On Fear, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-06-251014-2

External links

afraid in Arabic: خوف
afraid in Bulgarian: Страх
afraid in Catalan: Por
afraid in Czech: Strach
afraid in Welsh: Ofn
afraid in German: Furcht
afraid in Estonian: Hirm
afraid in Modern Greek (1453-): Φόβος
afraid in Spanish: Miedo
afraid in Esperanto: Timo
afraid in Persian: ترس
afraid in French: Peur
afraid in Galician: Medo
afraid in Croatian: Strah
afraid in Ido: Pavoro
afraid in Inuktitut: ᐃᓂᖅᑐᐃᒍᑎ/iniqtuiguti
afraid in Icelandic: Ótti
afraid in Italian: Paura
afraid in Hebrew: פחד
afraid in Lithuanian: Baimė
afraid in Dutch: Angst
afraid in Japanese: 恐怖
afraid in Norwegian: Frykt
afraid in Polish: Strach
afraid in Portuguese: Medo
afraid in Romanian: Frică
afraid in Quechua: Manchakuy
afraid in Russian: Страх
afraid in Sicilian: Scantu
afraid in Simple English: Fear
afraid in Slovak: Strach
afraid in Serbian: Страх
afraid in Finnish: Pelko
afraid in Swedish: Rädsla
afraid in Ukrainian: Страх
afraid in Yiddish: שרעק
afraid in Samogitian: Baimės
afraid in Chinese: 敬畏

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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