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 ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.