Difference Between Scared and Afraid

Individuals sometimes get confused between the terms scared and afraid, which both indicate a similar level of terror.


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The main distinction is that scared can be used both before the first noun so as a predicative after a verb, whereas afraid is usually used after one verb and not before a word.

This article features the distinct features of the two terms, their usual usage, and their differences that make them commonly used yet colloquially distinct.

Many people are perplexed by these terms. In terms of semantics, they appear to be similar, yet they are not; however, both show the same level of apprehension.

Scared vs Afraid

The difference between scared and afraid is that the word ‘scared’ is used in popular phrases in an informal conversation that is frequently used to convey minor worries and less degree of fear whereas ‘afraid’ is used to depict a more serious and continual state of fear. It is more formalized and less frequent; nevertheless, this is only accurate as they’re used to describe a fearful sensation.

Scared vs Afraid

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The term scared is used for the depiction of fear. It is an adjective for the depiction of human emotion like fright, or panic and is very commonly used colloquially. A terrified individual is worried or ‘scared’ of something.

For instance, he is scared to get into the ocean.

Other grammatical forms of ‘scared’ include the adjective ‘scary,’ which refers to something that produces dread; the verb ‘scare,’ which means to make someone fearful; and the noun version of ‘scare,’ which refers to a fearful emotion or circumstance.

‘Afraid’ is another synonymous term that also depicts fear and terror, however, the timeliness and longevity of this term are longer than that of the term “scared”.

It is a more professional and formal term and is derived from the obsolete Old English verb ‘affray’. The terms ‘ traumatized’ or ‘fearful’ might be used to express a heightened level of dread.

While these words are alternatives for “afraid” and “wary,” they may also be used to describe a more immediate or reactive dread. This might be the type of fear that makes humans panic.

For instance, when you jumped out of the closet, she was terrified. She is afraid of heights and refuses to enter the structure.

Comparison Table 

Parameters of ComparisonScaredAfraid
EtymologyMiddle English: from Old Norse skirra ‘frighten’, from skjarr ‘timid’.Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French afrayer, past participle of the extinct verb affray (affray).
Meaning1. Meaning; put into or being in a condition of dread, anxiety, or panic terrified.
2. Application: Used informally for lesser magnitude of fright.
1. filled with fear or apprehension, afraid of machines, afraid for his job. 
2. filled with concern or regret over an unwanted situation.
PositioningIt can be used both before and after a noun or a verb.Instead of being used before a noun, it is usually followed by a verb.
PronunciationScared is pronounced as ‘skeuhd’Afraid is pronounced as ‘uh·frayd’
ExamplesI am scared of the skeletons.That guy in red is scared of honey bees.She is afraid of the dark.Usually people are afraid of the deep seas.

What is Scared?

Scared is a past tense English word that depicts the human emotion of terror or worry. The meaning according to oxford states; put into or being in a condition of dread, anxiety, or panic terrified.

It is used informally for a lesser magnitude of fright. The etymology of this term is; Middle English: from Old Norse skirrs ‘frighten’, from skjarr ‘timid’.

The adjective scared’ is used to describe dread or worry. A terrified person is worried or afraid of doing something. For instance, he is afraid to get inside the ocean.

Other syntactic forms of ‘scared’ include the adverb ‘scary,’ which refers to something that produces dread; the verb ‘scare,’ which aims at making someone fearful; and the noun form of ‘scare,’ which refers to a fearful emotion or circumstance.

For instance, the movie was really frightening. When I came home, the door abruptly swung open, giving me a shock. Please don’t terrify me any longer with a movie like that.

Scared is usually definite with a clear cause to be frightened of, such as “I got scared of the tarantula,” whereas “I am fearful of entering into this company” contains an emotional component.

When describing someone’s emotional reaction, both terms can be used after the verb ‘to be’ and before ‘of,’ but when the subject of the article is still something terrible, only terrified or its counterpart frightened should be used, as in, This was the most terrifying event of my entire life.


What is Afraid?

The word ‘afraid’ has a distinct connotation than the word ‘scared’. This misunderstanding arises from the fact that both afraid and terrified are terms that refer to fear.

Thus, afraid here refers to a sensation of fear or anxiety, whereas scared refers to being startled, alarmed, or panicked.

According to Oxford English, afraid means; Frightened; feeling fearful or anxious. ‘I’m frightened of dogs,’ she said, attempting to think of the future without fear.

Fearful is occasionally used as a replacement for Scared, and conversely, however it is wrong to use scared rather than just afraid all of the time.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend a party this Sunday. Afraid is also used politely to communicate some terrible news, sorrow, or regret, and it’s used to also formally refuse something more like, I’m afraid, I won’t be able to attend the party this weekend.

The syntax for terrified and afraid varies as well, with the usage of ‘by’ as a preposition that frequently precedes scared, but using afraid in the same meaning makes no sense, as in The tiny boy was terrified by the insect, but you cannot be afraid of anything or things.

The words afraid and scared are however same when referred to colloquially, however, grammatically it isn’t right to use them interchangeably.


Main Differences Between Scared and Afraid

  1. Grammatically, one can be scared ‘by’ something but one cannot be afraid ‘by’ something.
  2. Scared is an instinctively past tense form of the scare, but afraid is an adjective with neutral tense.
  3. Scared is pronounced as ‘skeuhd’ whereas afraid is pronounced as ‘uh·frayd’.
  4. Synonyms of scared include frightened, nervous, panicky, intimidated whereas synonyms of afraid include horror-stricken, terrified, petrified, frantic.
  5. The origin of the term ‘scared’ is from Old Norse skirra ‘frighten’, from skjarr ‘timid’, whereas ‘afraid’ is derived from the Anglo-Norman French term ‘afrayer’.
Difference Between Scared and Afraid
  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/afraid
  2. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/scared
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