What are you afraid of?

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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.


Today I want to talk about fear. Fear is unpleasant, but it’s also a little bit exciting. It’s a strange emotion, a strange feeling because it gives us a thrill in the right levels and it’s something we like. We watch scary films, like to ride on roller coasters, but if you have a phobia or experience something that scares you, it’s not pleasant at all. 

This podcast is supposed to be aimed at A2 learners and that’s difficult because I’ve used some complicated language already. 

Let’s pause and look at the adjective scary. We use this to describe something that makes us feel fear. You can watch a scary film or read a scary story. If you want to describe your feelings, you can say I was scared. Scared goes with the preposition of. What are you scared of? I’m not scared of you! I’m not scared of anything. Well, maybe. 

A thrill is a rush of excitement caused by fear or danger; it makes your heart beat faster and sometimes gives you a rush of adrenalin. If something is exciting and scary, it will give you a thrill.

As well as saying scared of, you can say afraid of. Britain is an island and people have moved here in waves. This means that they often brought new languages with them so we have loads of words in English that often mean pretty much the same thing. So we have scared which comes from Old Norse – I guess the Vikings brought it with them. And then the Normans invaded from France and brought French and the word afraid. Sometimes, there are still connections with the words and the way we feel about them that have their roots in their origins. I’m not sure about scared or afraid. However, looking at a collocations dictionary, I can see in English you’re more likely to say you are slightly afraid or a little afraid, rather afraid or a bit afraid than you are to say a little scared. You can say both, though.

In this podcast, I’m going to look at words for different types of fear, starting at the kind of small fears everyone has about little things that could go wrong all the way up to to the deepest darkest fears that haunt our dreams. I’m going to talk about five different things that people are afraid of and will do my best to describe the vocabulary of fear along the way. 

So, what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of anything on my list?

Fear number 1: Fear of the dark

This is something I don’t understand. My kids are afraid of the dark and sleep with a night light. This is an interesting fear because it’s not really the darkness that people fear. At least, I don’t think it is. It’s that there might be monsters hiding in the darkness. I have tried to explain that there are no monsters to my children, but that doesn’t stop them from getting panicky if I turn off their bedroom light and shut the door without turning on their night light first. 

Panicky describes someone who gets very worried and frightened quickly. The verb to panic means to become so scared or nervous that you don’t act reasonably or rationally. People do crazy things when they panic. Sometimes, whole crowds of people panic and they get so scared, they don’t care about anybody but themselves and people get crushed as everyone tries to run away. 

Do you have arachnophobia?

Fear number 2: Fear of animals

I have chosen to include all animal fears. My wife is terrified of dogs. My sister really doesn’t like spiders. I had a school friend who was petrified of moths and I think that most people are pretty scared of snakes. Now, my wife’s fear of dogs comes from being attacked by a dog when she was a child. Snakes and spiders are sometimes venomous and so I think it’s quite reasonable to be afraid of them. But moths? Why would anyone be afraid of a moth? And my sister’s fear of spiders. Well, that’s not really sensible as we don’t have dangerous spiders in the UK. If we were in Australia, it would be rational. But here in the UK, it counts as a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. There are names for all kinds of phobias: arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. Trypanophobia is the fear of needles. Agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces.

A scary dog or a scaredy dog

Thalassophobia is the fear of deep water. Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces. I think claustrophobia is the only named phobia that people talk about. The other common use of phobia is in the word homophobia which is the fear of gay people, but it’s really used to mean a dislike or prejudice. 

I said that my wife is terrified of dogs. Terrified just means very frightened. It’s an extreme adjective so you can’t say very terrified. You can say really terrified or absolutely terrified. My school friend was petrified of moths. He may still be petrified of moths. Petrified is even stronger than terrified. It literally means turned to stone – it’s not as commonly used as terrified or scared, but it’s really descriptive.

Fear number 3: Fear of failure

This is one of the worst fears because it stops people from achieving their potential, that is, it stops people taking risks so they never know how good they could be. This is not like the other fears. You don’t experience this fear in the same way you might be afraid of a spider. People are not frightened of failure, the fear of failure is a slow fear that is still uncomfortable, it makes you feel anxious and worried. You ask your self what if … what if I make a fool of myself? What if I’m not good enough? What if nobody believes me? What if nobody likes me?

I think that everybody knows this and has felt this fear at some time. It’s one of the hardest fears to conquer because you can’t just be brave for a few seconds, you have to be brave for a long time.

I spoke about the word frightening. A fright is a sudden experience of fear. It’s similar to surprise, but nasty. To frighten means to give someone a fright and person or an experience that gives you a fright is frightening. My old boss was really frightening. You did not want to cross her. If you experience something frightening, then you will feel frightened.

I also said that fear of failure makes you feel anxious. This is a bit like nervous or afraid, but it’s normally something like a background emotion. It’s a bit like stress. You might not even realise you are feeling it, but it will affect how you respond to everything around you. 

The last phrase I want to look at from this fear was to conquer your fear. To conquer used to be used to talk about how a king from one country would invade another and become the new ruler. We call the Norman king that invaded England in 1066 William the conqueror. To conquer a fear means to completely defeat the feelings of fear so you are in control of your life again.

A spooky ghost?

Fear number 4: Fear of ghosts

Have you ever seen a ghost? When I was younger, I was fascinated by ghosts and really wanted to see one. I’m sad to say that I never found one and now, I find them very hard to believe in. However, when people think they see them, they get scared stiff. I don’t think that anything is scarier than ghosts for people who believe in them, well, and are scared of them. My niece is really scared of ghosts and a few years ago, I went with her and my family to an old building that is supposed to be haunted. I spent the whole time teasing her and pretending I could see something standing behind her. I didn’t realise quite how scared she was. She was scared out of her wits

To be scared stiff means to be paralysed by fear. The literal meaning is the same as petrified. To be so scared that you can’t move. We also say scared out of your wits or scared witless. In this phrase, we are saying that you are so scared, you can’t think properly. 

There is another phrase that uses the swear word shit. This is a vulgar word and so should not be used at work or in a situation when you need to be polite, but it’s quite common in informal situations so you should be aware of it. You can say I was scared shitless or that film scared the shit out of me. People also say I was shitting myself to mean I was really scared. As I say, it’s all vulgar language and some people will find it offensive so be careful with these expressions.

She was scared out of her wits!

Fear number 5: Fear of nothingness 

To me, this is the darkest fear. The fear of nothingness. This is the fear that teenagers experience as they realise that the kind words their parents told them might not be true. The fear that there is nothing more. There is a special word for this kind of fear: dread. This is not exciting. This fear does not get your adrenalin pumping. Instead, it settles in the background, like anxiety, but much much colder. We do use dread for other things. You might dread going to a meeting with your ex-wife or husband. I think that if you were sentenced to prison, the feeling before you start your sentence would be dread. We use the phrase to fill someone with dread. The thought of my children getting sick fills me with dread

So there you have five fears and loads of vocabulary. I’m going to add some activities so you can practice using this language on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. Also, I’m going to leave you with three questions and I would love for you to answer them in the comments section on Learn English Vocabulary on the page for this podcast. The questions are:

  1. Do you have any irrational fears? Are you scared of anything that you really shouldn’t be?
  2. What would you be most afraid of; a ghost or an alien?
  3. What fear have you conquered?

If you have enjoyed this podcast, please leave me a comment or a rating or a review. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. So please visit LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk and say hello.

Thanks for listening.

Activity 1

Activity 2

Adjectives – can you select the right words?

Activity 3

Fill in the gaps with the words from the podcast

Activity 4

Phobias quiz – this is just for fun


Answer the questions in the comments

  1. Do you have any irrational fears? Are you scared of anything that you really shouldn’t be?
  2. What would you be most afraid of; a ghost or an alien?
  3. What fear have you conquered?
Show CommentsClose Comments


  • Horacio
    Posted 08/10/2020 at 12:21 am

    Hi, thanks for the podcast.

    1. My irrational fear is loneliness, wich is a bit irrational since i’m surrounded by people all the time,but sometimes it seems that no.
    2.I have most afraid of ghosts, i prefer meet an alien.
    3.I has conquered mi fear of darkness.

    • Jack
      Posted 09/10/2020 at 10:25 am

      Hi Horacio
      I understand the fear of loneliness. However, I would love to see a ghost.

  • Dolores M.
    Posted 16/02/2021 at 10:14 am

    Thank you for you podcasts!

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