a. A very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger: Our fears intensified as the storm approached.
b. A state or condition marked by this feeling: living in constant fear of attack; saved as much as he could for fear of losing his job.
2. A feeling of disquiet or apprehension: a fear of looking foolish.
3. A reason for dread or apprehension: Being alone is my greatest fear.
4. Extreme reverence or awe, as toward a deity.
v. feared, fear·ing, fears
1. To be afraid or frightened of: a boy who fears spiders.
2. To be uneasy or apprehensive about: We all feared what we would see when the grades were posted.
3. To consider probable; expect: I fear you are wrong. I fear I have bad news for you.
4. To revere or be in awe of (a deity, for example).
1. To be afraid: Your injury is minor. Don't fear.
2. To be uneasy or apprehensive: We fear for the future of the business.
[Middle English fer, from Old English fǣr, danger, sudden calamity; see per-3 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: fear, fright, dread, terror, horror, panic, alarm, trepidation, apprehension
These nouns denote the agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. Fear is the most general term: a morbid fear of snakes; was filled with fear as the car skidded off the road. Fright is sudden, intense, usually momentary fear: "Pulling open the door, she started back in fright at the unknown face before hers" (Donna Morrissey).
Dread is visceral fear, especially in anticipation of something dangerous or unpleasant: felt a mounting dread as the battle approached; approached the oral exam with dread. Terror is intense, overpowering fear: "And now at the dead hour of the night ... so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror" (Edgar Allan Poe).
Horror is a combination of fear and aversion or repugnance: reacted with horror to the news of the atrocities. Panic is sudden frantic fear, often affecting many people at the same time: The shoppers fled in panic at the sound of gunshots. Alarm is anxious concern caused by the first realization of danger or a setback: I watched with alarm as the sky darkened. Trepidation and apprehension are more formal terms for dread: "I awaited the X-ray afterward with trepidation" (Atul Gawande). "Now there were just the two of them ... and they were headed for the hospital ... and she was what calmed his apprehension and allowed him to be brave" (Philip Roth).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 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.