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What’s the Difference Between Scared and Afraid?

  • In some cases, afraid and scared are interchangeable.
  • Afraid has meanings that scared does not share.
  • The grammar of scared and afraid can be different in certain constructions.

Are you afraid or are you scared? Is there a difference between the two adjectives? Learn how to accurately describe your level of terror in this article!

What’s the Same About Scared and Afraid?

You probably know that both scared and afraid deal with fear. In fact, that’s why they are so easily confused. Let’s start with the definition of afraid that’s closest to the definition of scared. Afraid means feeling fear or apprehension. Scared means being in a state of fear, nervousness, or panic. If you think they sound pretty much the same, you are not alone. But plenty of people point out the distinctions.

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What’s Different About Scared and Afraid?

First, feeling fear is only one definition of afraid. Being afraid might also mean feeling regret or reluctance. Scared would give a different nuance to following two sentences.

I am afraid I won’t be able to make the party on Saturday.
He seemed afraid to put his name on the petition.

Another unique usage of afraid is to confirm bad news.

Did he refuse to put his name on the petition? I’m afraid so.
Will you be able to make it to the party on Saturday? Sorry, I’m afraid not.

The grammar of afraid and scared also differs. The preposition by often follows scared. However, afraid by doesn’t make any sense.

The little girl was scared by the fake spider.

The position of afraid is also more limited than that of scared. It sounds most natural when it appears after the noun it’s describing.

There were two scared puppies huddling in the corner of the shed.
The two puppies huddling in the corner of the shed were afraid.

Afraid and Scared Examples in Literature

I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.
Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Synonyms of Scared and Afraid

There are lots of other words that express varying levels of fear. Here are some alternatives to scared and afraid. (Remember, they don’t express the other meanings of afraid, just the one pertaining to fear.)

  • Frightened means afraid or fearful.
  • Terrified means to be extremely afraid.
  • Spooked means to be startled, sometimes with the result of running or stampeding in the case of animals.

Are you feeling fearful? You don’t have to be afraid or scared about which adjective you choose to describe the feeling. You can use afraid or scared if you pay attention to the grammar. And if you want to confirm bad news or express feelings of regret or reluctance, afraid is the right word. Isn’t this pair a little less scary now?

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