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Learn English Phrases: I’m afraid & I’m scared

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Hello, students. It’s Shayna, your teacher from EspressoEnglish.net. Today I want to answer a student question about the phrases I’m afraid and I’m scared. Is there any difference between them? How do we use these in spoken English?

Well, in one sense I’m afraid and I’m scared are the same. We use them both to talk about fear. We can be afraid of or scared of an object or a situation. You can say, “I’m afraid of spiders,” or, “I’m scared of heights.” That means I’m scared of being in high places. Maybe because I have a fear of falling. Okay? Remember that after I’m afraid and I’m scared when talking about fear, we use the preposition “of”. Don’t say for, by, about. I’m afraid of spiders. I’m scared of heights.

We can also be afraid of or scared of an activity. We would say that activity in the “ing” form. I’m afraid of speaking in public. I’m scared of dying. That’s how we use afraid and scared when talking about fear of an activity.

Or what if you’re afraid or scared of something in the future? Well, then you can say, “I’m afraid,” or, “I’m scared to do something.” If you haven’t been to the dentist in a very long time and you fear that you might need a lot of painful dental work you might say, “I’m scared to go to to the dentist.” Or if there’s a guy who is attracted to a woman and he wants to ask her out on a date, but he’s nervous, he’s afraid, then he could say, “I’m afraid to ask her out.” Ask someone out means to ask someone out on a romantic date.

There you have three different ways to use afraid and scared when talking about fear. I’m afraid of an object, like spiders. I’m afraid of spiders. I’m scared of spiders. I’m afraid of or I’m scared of an activity in the “ing” form. I’m afraid of or scared of speaking in public. I’m afraid to or I’m scared to something in the future. I’m afraid to ask her out. I’m scared to go to the dentist.

Now, if we want to use these words as an adjective to describe something that causes fear, the most common way to say it is scary. You can say, “That movie is scary,” or, “That’s a scary movie.” Scary is the most common way to say it here. You can also say frightening. It’s a frightening movie. That movie is frightening. I think it’s much more common to use scary as an adjective to describe the thing. We don’t use afraid in this situation.

There is one more way we use afraid where we use only afraid and not scared. That is to express regret or deliver bad news. If you work for a company that sends out products and a customer calls because they haven’t received their product and you check the system and it seems that there’s been a delay, you might tell the customer, “I’m afraid that your order has been delayed.” In this case it does not refer to fear. It’s just a diplomatic way to express some bad news. That you regret having to give this customer bad news. I’m afraid that your order has been delayed.

Or if someone comes up to you on the street and asks you for directions, but you are not familiar with the area, you might say, “I’m afraid I can’t help you.” It means I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. Or I regret to give you this bad news. I can’t help you. After using I’m afraid in this context, we can use the word “that” or not. I’m afraid your order has been delayed or I’m afraid that your order has been delayed. The word “that” is optional in this case.

Afraid and scared have the same meaning when talking about fear and we say afraid of, scared of, afraid to, scared to do something. Remember those little prepositions. When talking about an adjective describing something, we use the adjective scary. It’s a scary movie. When expressing regret and bad news in a diplomatic way we say, “I’m afraid.” Then, optionally we can add the word that.

You might be afraid to speak English. It’s really common. A lot of English learners are scared to speak English because they are scared of making mistakes. One of the reasons, also, is that you might know a lot of individual English words and even grammar points, but you’re not sure how to put it all together into a sentence for speaking normally in a conversation.

The solution to this is to focus on learning whole phrases. Don’t just study individual words and then try to put them together. That’s too much work. Instead you should learn entire phrases and expressions.

You can do that inside my Everyday English Speaking Courses. These courses are based on conversations so you get to see how the phrases and expressions are used in context. Of course, there are exercises to help you put them into practice.

Click on the link in the video or in the description for more information about those courses and I’d encourage you to sign up today, start improving your English speaking so that you won’t be afraid to speak English. Bye bye for now.

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