v. fright·ened, fright·en·ing, fright·ens
1. To fill with fear; alarm.
2. To drive or force by arousing fear: The suspect was frightened into confessing.
To become afraid: told ghost stories to campers who frightened easily.
Synonyms: frighten, scare, alarm, terrify, terrorize, startle, panic
These verbs mean to cause a person to experience fear. Frighten and the more informal scare are the most widely applicable: "The Count's mysterious warning frightened me at the time" (Bram Stoker). We scared each other telling ghost stories before bed.
Alarm implies a state of fearful anxiety, often brought on suddenly: The sight of the approaching shark alarmed the swimmers.
Terrify implies overwhelming, often paralyzing fear: "It is the coming of death that terrifies me" (Oscar Wilde).
To terrorize is to strike fear into another, often for purposes of coercion: "The decent citizen was terrorized into paying public blackmail" (Arthur Conan Doyle).
Startle suggests a momentary fright that may cause a sudden, involuntary movement of the body: The clap of thunder startled us.
Panic implies sudden frantic fear that often impairs self-control and rationality: The realistic radio drama panicked the listeners who tuned in after it had begun.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.