fear

1 of 2

noun

1
a
: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
b(1)
: an instance of this emotion
(2)
: a state marked by this emotion
2
: anxious concern : solicitude
3
: profound reverence and awe especially toward God
4
: reason for alarm : danger

fear

2 of 2

verb

feared; fearing; fears

transitive verb

1
: to be afraid of : expect with alarm
fear the worst
2
: to have a reverential awe of
fear God
3
archaic : frighten
4
archaic : to feel fear in (oneself)

intransitive verb

: to be afraid or apprehensive
feared for their lives
feared to go out at night
fearer noun
Choose the Right Synonym for fear

fear, dread, fright, alarm, panic, terror, trepidation mean painful agitation in the presence or anticipation of danger.

fear is the most general term and implies anxiety and usually loss of courage.

fear of the unknown

dread usually adds the idea of intense reluctance to face or meet a person or situation and suggests aversion as well as anxiety.

faced the meeting with dread

fright implies the shock of sudden, startling fear.

fright at being awakened suddenly

alarm suggests a sudden and intense awareness of immediate danger.

view the situation with alarm

panic implies unreasoning and overmastering fear causing hysterical activity.

the news caused widespread panic

terror implies the most extreme degree of fear.

immobilized with terror

trepidation adds to dread the implications of timidity, trembling, and hesitation.

raised the subject with trepidation

Examples of fear in a Sentence

Noun He was trembling with fear. unable to walk the streets without fear of being mugged They regarded their enemies with fear and hatred. I've been trying to overcome my fear of flying. The doctor's diagnosis confirmed our worst fears. The government is trying to allay fears of a recession. Employees expressed fears that the company would go out of business. He told us about all his hopes and fears. She has a morbid fear of cats. Verb He was a cruel king who was feared and hated by his subjects. There's no need to fear. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
As fear and paranoia set in, the trio are forced to question each other’s loyalty, with devastating consequences. Alex Ritman, Variety, 17 Feb. 2024 Rising interest rates, fragility in the global supply chain and China’s rapid militarization have led to fears that the United States, and perhaps the industry itself, is vulnerable. Elizabeth Dwoskin, Washington Post, 17 Feb. 2024 But markets bounced back after a Fed official eased those fears. Diksha Madhok, CNN, 16 Feb. 2024 Well-chronicled in media reports, books and film, Wilson suffered from physical and mental abuse from his father during adolescence, drug abuse in his young adulthood, mental and clinical abuse from a discredited psychologist in his maturity, and ongoing anxiety and fears in his later life. Michael Peregrine, Forbes, 16 Feb. 2024 An article on Thursday about fears of an expansion of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip misstated the day on which Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, warned of further Israeli strikes in Lebanon. New York Times, 16 Feb. 2024 The slogan Save Our Children (there is also a nonprofit called Save Our Children that has been unfairly swept up in this craziness) has now become Leave Our Kids Alone — a skillful political feint that puts fear over reality. Anita Chabria, Los Angeles Times, 16 Feb. 2024 Young workers in particular are worried, as 52% of Gen Z respondents expressed that fear, while only 33% of Gen X workers said the same. Paige McGlauflin, Fortune, 16 Feb. 2024 What Parents Should Know: Orion sketches out his anxieties and fears in a book and some of those images—which include murderous clowns, bugs, public humiliation, and bullying at school—start to come alive (though still in his imagination). Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal, Parents, 5 Feb. 2024
Verb
Miss Manners fears that your lunch companions will then be left to wonder what happens to the dressing that is now on your palm instead of your blouse. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 17 Feb. 2024 Taxpayers often fear audits, but statistically, less than 1% of individual tax returns are pulled for examination. Kelly Phillips Erb, Forbes, 17 Feb. 2024 The Biden Administration—both fearing a border surge and concerned about detaining migrants in close quarters during a pandemic—had opted to retain its newfound powers. Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, 17 Feb. 2024 But American lawmakers fear that Chinese carmakers will use factories in Mexico to avoid such tariffs, taking advantage of the North American free trade agreement. Steve Mollman, Fortune, 17 Feb. 2024 My research also suggests that the U.S. will likely not sell its advanced Reaper drones to Ukraine, fearing crisis escalation with Russia. Paul Lushenko, The Conversation, 16 Feb. 2024 The government had defended the laws as necessary reforms to modernize Indian farming, but farmers feared the government’s move to introduce market reforms in agriculture would leave them poorer. Krutika Pathi, The Christian Science Monitor, 16 Feb. 2024 Many in Jasper, a city of about 14,000 that lies 40 miles northwest of Birmingham, fear the culprits have taken more than a heap of steel. Eduardo Medina, New York Times, 16 Feb. 2024 It’s being used in conservation, and the technique was deployed in the rediscovery of the blind golden mole, which was found using eDNA 87 years after wildlife experts feared the species had gone extinct. Katie Hunt, CNN, 5 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fear.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Noun

Middle English fer, going back to Old English fǣr, fēr "unexpected danger, peril," going back to Germanic *fēra- or *fēran- (whence also Old Saxon fār "lurking danger," Old High German fāra "ambush, danger," Old Norse fár "evil, mischief, plague"), perhaps going back to a lengthened-grade nominal derivative of a proposed Indo-European verbal base *per- "test, risk" — more at peril entry 1

Note: Attested in Gothic only in the presumed derivative ferja, translating Greek enkáthetos "one put in secretly, spy." Though the etymology proposed above is conventional in dictionaries, the original meaning of the Germanic etymon and its relation to a putative Indo-European *per- are uncertain. See note at peril entry 1. The meaning of the Middle and Modern English noun appears to be derivative of the verb (see fear entry 2) rather than a development of the Old English meaning.

Verb

Middle English feren "to frighten, be afraid of," going back to Old English fǣran, fēran "to take by surprise, frighten," weak verb derivative (as also Old Saxon fāron "to lurk in wait for, frighten," Old High German fārēn "to lurk in wait for, strive, devise ill against," Old Norse færa "to slight, taunt") of Germanic *fēra- or *fēran- — more at fear entry 1

First Known Use

Noun

12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Verb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of fear was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near fear

Cite this Entry

“Fear.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fear. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

fear

1 of 2 noun
1
a
: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by expectation or awareness of danger
b
: an instance of fear or a state marked by fear
2
: concern about what may happen : worry
3

fear

2 of 2 verb
1
: to feel great awe of
fear God
2
: to be afraid of : have fear
3
: to be worried
feared they would miss the train
fearer noun

Medical Definition

fear

noun
1
: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger and accompanied by increased autonomic activity
2
: an instance of fear
fear verb

More from Merriam-Webster on fear

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