How to use “afraid”

The word “afraid” can be used in a couple of different ways in English, which might be confusing for learners. Read on for the two main ways to use “afraid,” and how to use them in conversation.

[Listen to the audio version of this lesson here.]

afraid = fear

One meaning of “afraid” is the same as the word “fear.” “Frightened” and “scared” are other synonyms of this meaning of “afraid.”

It’s almost always used with a form of the verb “to be.”

For example:
Are you afraid of spiders? = Are you scared or fearful of spiders?
She’s afraid (that) her mom will find out. = She’s frightened or scared (that) her mom will find out.
I’m not afraid to speak in front of people. = I’m not scared to speak in front of people.

I’m afraid = I’m sorry

Another meaning of “afraid” is similar to “sorry.” People say “I’m afraid…” or “I’m afraid that…” to mean “I’m sorry to say that…” Saying “I’m afraid (that)…” is a polite way to give bad news or to apologize for something.

For example:
I’m afraid that I don’t know. = I’m sorry to say that I don’t know.
I’m afraid I’m going to be late. = I’m sorry to say I’m going to be late.

In addition, you can respond to certain questions or statements with “I’m afraid so,” or “I’m afraid not,” to mean “I’m sorry to say that is correct,” or “I’m sorry to say no.” For example:

A: Can you loan me some cash for lunch?
B: I’m afraid not. (I’m sorry to say no.)

A: The flight is delayed.
B: I’m afraid so. (I’m sorry to say that is correct.)

 

What about you?

Can you use both of these versions of “afraid” today? Leave a comment about how you used it!


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