Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference between scared and afraid?

What is the difference between ‘scared’ and ‘afraid’? These words can be considered synonyms of each other.  For example:  ‘She is afraid’ and ‘she is scared’ have the same meaning.  However, these words cannot always be used interchangeably.    While the two words meaning may be similar, the difference lies in the grammar and usage of the words.

‘Scared’ is an adjective used to indicate fear or anxiety. A scared person is nervous or frightened about something.  For example:  He is too scared to go into the water.  ‘Scared’ has other grammatical forms, such as the adjective ‘Scary’, for something that causes fear; ‘Scare’ as a verb, which means to cause fear in someone; and the noun form of ‘Scare’ which is a feeling of fear or a situation that causes fear.  For example: That movie was so scary.  When I got home I had a scare when the door flew open unexpectedly.  Please don’t scare me with a movie like that anymore.

‘Afraid’ is used as an adjective too, and it literally means ‘filled with fear’.  So we might imagine a person so full of the feeling of fear that they cannot think about anything else.  For example:  She is afraid of spiders.  In this example, she has such a dislike of spiders, she will do whatever she can to avoid them.  A person can be afraid of any number of things, but it can also be used to mean a strong dislike.  For example it is common to say in English:  He is afraid of hard work, so don’t ask him to do anything.

To indicate a higher level of fear, the words ‘frightened’ or ‘terrified’ can be used.  While these are synonyms of ‘scared’ and ‘afraid’ they can be used to indicate a more sudden or reactive fear.  This might be the kind of fear that would cause a person to panic.  For example:  She was frightened when you jumped out of the closet. She is terrified of heights and refused to go in the building.

When it comes to the grammar and usage of ‘scared’ and ‘afraid’, it is important to remember that although we can be ‘scared by’ something, we cannot be ‘afraid by’ something.  For example:  She was scared by the clown, not, she was afraid by the clown.  ‘Afraid’ is also not usually used before a noun, it is usually put after a verb by most native English speakers.  I am afraid of that, not I am an afraid person.  ‘Scared’ can more naturally be used in this format.  For example:  I am a scared person.

So while ‘Scared’ and ‘Afraid’ are used to express the same emotion of fear, the grammar and usage must be considered.  The differences are slight, but being sure of using these words properly will aid in more natural and native sounding English.

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  1. Neat Explanation. Was thinking both meant same and can be used interchangeably. Thank you.

    Dr. Karthik,
    Metromale Clinic & Fertility Center, Chennai.

  2. Wow, I’m impressed! You really did a great job.
    Your article helped me understand the difference between these 2 words. Thanks so much!

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