Idioms for Expressing Fear in English

With Halloween fast approaching, we once again get a chance to focus on the less pleasant acceptances of life such as dread and fear. Halloween is a holiday which originated in the English-speaking world. Ireland to be exact! “Hallow” or holy person, refers to the saints celebrated on All Saints’ Day, which is November 1st. So basically, Halloween is just an old-fashioned way of saying All Hallows Eve, or, in other words, the night before All Saints Day- also called Hallowmas or All Hallows Day.

This shows that dread and fear are all elements that have left their mark in the English culture and subsequently in the English language itself.

There are many ways to express one’s fear in the English language and there are many different idioms for expressing different kind of fears we experience.

We will start with the most common one and something which you yourself have said at one time or another, which is make your blood run cold. This comes from the shivers we experience by the shock of something scary happening to us.

While something really scary needs to happen to make your blood run cold, this is not so true for someone who is afraid of his own shadow. This is a person who is easily frightened and even the smallest thing can make him jump in fear.

For someone afraid of his own shadow, anxiety and fear go hand in hand, and if something both scares and makes you anxious you could break out in cold sweat. If you break out in a cold sweat, you start to perspire a lot, usually from anxiety. I think we can all agree that this is one of the worst feelings in the world!

Most people would break out in a cold sweat, but the most stubborn of us all will whistle in the dark. Whistling in the dark means that you try to hide your fear and not show it to anyone. This, however, does not mean that they are not scared, but only good at hiding it.

While you could be stubborn enough to whistle in the dark, there are some things which just make your heart skip a beat. If so, a sudden feeling of fear may overcome you and you might find yourself on pins and needles. To find yourself in this situation can be quite harrowing, but always remember that this is so common that it has become an idiom.

If you are someone who is on pins and needles you are normally nervous and afraid about what might happen in the future. It is not uncommon for these people to shake like a leaf, which means that they are trembling in fear.

There are also instances when people who have experienced a high level of fear get Struck Dumb which means that they have been scared so much they can barely speak or move. It may sound like this is derogatory term, but the idiom predeceases this term. However, it is becoming more and more uncommon to use.

“Once I got the daylight scared out of me means that something as scary as it gets occurred. This is similar to getting a chill down your spine which means that something or someone has made you feel frightened to an extent where you’ll get that tingling feeling in your body.

If you yourself cause this feeling to another person, you may get into trouble! A parent or person of authority may scare you straight, which means that they scared you so much you immediately improved your behaviour.

Scaring someone straight can sound terrifying! A nicer, funnier way to say this would be to “scare his pants off. Sounds a little better right? This could also be used in the context of giving someone a jump or a trick at Halloween!

You may try and try to scare somebody, but some weren’t brought up in the woods to be scared by owls, which means that they are not as easily scared as the lay person. Someone with a backbone. Someone who would not be quaking in their boots.

As you can see expressing fear in the English language can be done in a variety of ways and there is an expression for every situation you can think of.

This Halloween don’t forget to express your fear in whichever way you like and remember a good Halloween is one where you give someone the Heebie-Jeebies (one of our favourite English expressions) which means experiences strong fear.


To expand your English vocabulary and learn more about all the different idioms, don’t forget to your lessons booked today! These sayings will sure come in handy for your Halloween Party!


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