AskDefine | Define fearful

Dictionary Definition

fearful adj
1 causing fear or dread or terror; "the awful war"; "an awful risk"; "dire news"; "a career or vengeance so direful that London was shocked"; "the dread presence of the headmaster"; "polio is no longer the dreaded disease it once was"; "a dreadful storm"; "a fearful howling"; "horrendous explosions shook the city"; "a terrible curse" [syn: awful, dire, direful, dread(a), dreaded, dreadful, fearsome, frightening, horrendous, horrific, terrible]
2 lacking courage; ignobly timid and faint-hearted; "cowardly dogs, ye will not aid me then"- P.B.Shelley [syn: cowardly] [ant: brave]
3 extremely distressing; "fearful slum conditions"; "a frightful mistake"; "suffered terrible thirst" [syn: frightful, terrible]
4 timid by nature or revealing timidity; "timorous little mouse"; "in a timorous tone"; "cast fearful glances at the large dog" [syn: timorous, trepid]
5 experiencing or showing fear; "a fearful glance"; "fearful of criticism"

User Contributed Dictionary



fear + -ful




  1. frightening
  2. frightened, filled with terror
  3. terrible


frightened, filled with terror

Extensive Definition

Fear is an emotional response to tangible and realistic dangers. Fear should be distinguished from anxiety, an emotion that often arises out of proportion to the actual threat or danger involved, and can be subjectively experienced without any specific attention to the threatening object.
Most fear is usually connected to pain (e.g., some fear heights because if they fall, they may suffer severe injury or even die upon landing). Behavioral theorists, like Watson and Ekman, have suggested that fear is one of several very basic emotions (e.g., joy and anger). Fear is a survival mechanism, and usually occurs in response to a specific negative stimulus.


The Old English term fǣr meant not the emotion engendered by a calamity or disaster but rather the event itself. The first recorded usage of the term "fear" with the sense of the “emotion of fear” is found in a medieval work written in Middle English and composed around 1290. The most probable explanation for the change in the meaning of the word fear is the existence in Old English of the related verb fǣran, which meant “to terrify, take by surprise.”


Serious fear is a response to some formidable impending peril, while trifling fear arises from confrontation with inconsequential danger.
Fear can be described by different terms in accordance with its relative degrees. Personal fear varies extremely in degree from mild caution to extreme phobia and paranoia. Fear is related to a number of emotional states including worry, anxiety, terror, fright, paranoia, horror, panic (social and personal), persecution complex and dread.
Fears may be a factor within a larger social network, wherein personal fears are synergetically compounded as mass hysteria.
  • Paranoia is a term used to describe a psychosis of fear, described as a heightened perception of being persecuted, false or otherwise. This degree of fear often indicates that one has changed their normal behavior in radical ways, and may have become extremely compulsive. Sometimes, the result of extreme paranoia is a phobia.
  • Distrust in the context of interpersonal fear, is sometimes explained as the inward feeling of caution, usually focused towards a person, representing an unwillingness to trust in someone else. Distrust is not a lack of faith or belief in someone, but a feeling of warning towards someone or something questionable or unknown. For example, one may "distrust" a stranger who acts in a way that is perceived as "odd." Likewise one may "distrust" the safety of a rusty old bridge across a 100 ft drop.
  • Terror refers to a pronounced state of fear - which usually occurs before the state of horror - when someone becomes overwhelmed with a sense of immediate danger. Also, it can be caused by perceiving the (possibly extreme) phobia. As a consequence, terror overwhelms the person to the point of making irrational choices and non-typical behavior.
Fear can also affect the subconscious and unconscious mind, most notably through nightmares.
Fear can also be imagined, and the side effects can also be imagined.


Although fear is an innate response, objects of fear can be learned. This has been studied in psychology as fear conditioning, beginning with Watson's Little Albert experiment in 1920. In this study, an 11-month-old boy was conditioned to fear a white rat in the laboratory. In the real world, fear may also be acquired by a traumatic accident. For example, if a child falls into a well and struggles to get out, he or she may develop a fear of wells, enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) or of water (aquaphobia).
Researchers have found that certain fears (e.g. animals, heights) are much more common than others (e.g. flowers, clouds). They are also much easier to induce in the laboratory. This phenomenon has been called preparedness. Physiologically, the fear response is linked to activity in the amygdala of the limbic system.
The experience of fear may also be influenced by social norms and values. In the early 20th century, many people feared polio, a disease which cripples the body part it affects, leaving the body part immobilized for the rest of one's life.


Further reading

  • Joanna Bourke (2005), Fear: a cultural history, Virago
  • Corey Robin (2004), Fear: the history of a political idea, Oxford University Press
  • Duenwald, Mary. "The Psychology of ...Facial Expressions" Discovery Magazine Vol. 26 NO. 1
  • Krishnamurti, J. (1995), On Fear, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-06-251014-2

External links

fearful in Arabic: خوف
fearful in Bulgarian: Страх
fearful in Catalan: Por
fearful in Czech: Strach
fearful in Welsh: Ofn
fearful in German: Furcht
fearful in Estonian: Hirm
fearful in Modern Greek (1453-): Φόβος
fearful in Spanish: Miedo
fearful in Esperanto: Timo
fearful in Persian: ترس
fearful in French: Peur
fearful in Galician: Medo
fearful in Croatian: Strah
fearful in Ido: Pavoro
fearful in Inuktitut: ᐃᓂᖅᑐᐃᒍᑎ/iniqtuiguti
fearful in Icelandic: Ótti
fearful in Italian: Paura
fearful in Hebrew: פחד
fearful in Lithuanian: Baimė
fearful in Dutch: Angst
fearful in Japanese: 恐怖
fearful in Norwegian: Frykt
fearful in Polish: Strach
fearful in Portuguese: Medo
fearful in Romanian: Frică
fearful in Quechua: Manchakuy
fearful in Russian: Страх
fearful in Sicilian: Scantu
fearful in Simple English: Fear
fearful in Slovak: Strach
fearful in Serbian: Страх
fearful in Finnish: Pelko
fearful in Swedish: Rädsla
fearful in Ukrainian: Страх
fearful in Yiddish: שרעק
fearful in Samogitian: Baimės
fearful in Chinese: 敬畏

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

aflutter, afraid, aghast, agitated, alarmed, alarming, all nerves, all-overish, anxious, anxioused up, appalling, apprehensive, atrocious, awful, awing, baleful, bashful, bothered, chicken, chickenhearted, chilling, concerned, coward, cowardly, cowed, daunted, daunting, deadly, deterrent, deterring, diffident, dire, direful, discomposed, disconcerting, discouraging, disgusting, disheartening, dismayed, dismaying, disquieted, disquieting, disturbed, dreadful, edgy, excitable, fainthearted, fear-inspiring, fearing, fearsome, foreboding, formidable, frightened, frightening, frightful, funking, funky, ghastly, goosy, grim, grisly, gruesome, heinous, henhearted, hesitant, hideous, high-strung, horrendous, horrible, horrific, horrifying, howling, in a pucker, in a stew, in fear, intimidated, irritable, jittery, jumpy, lily-livered, loathsome, lurid, macabre, malign, milk-livered, milksoppish, milksoppy, misgiving, monstrous, mousy, nauseating, nauseous, nerves on edge, nervous, nervy, on edge, on tenterhooks, overanxious, overapprehensive, overawing, overstrung, overtimid, overtimorous, overwhelming, panic-prone, panic-stricken, panicky, perturbed, pigeonhearted, pusillanimous, rabbity, redoubtable, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, rousing, scared, scaring, scary, shaky, shivery, shocking, shrinking, shy, sinister, sissified, sissy, skittery, skittish, soft, solicitous, startling, startlish, strained, sublime, suspenseful, tense, terrible, terrific, terrified, terrifying, terror-stricken, thumping, timid, timorous, trembling, tremendous, tremulous, trepidant, trigger-happy, troubled, uneasy, unmanly, unmanned, unspeakable, unwilling, weak, weak-kneed, weakhearted, whacking, white-livered, yellow, zealous
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