The Ways Spanish Says "Fear"

Page content

Nothing to Fear But Confusion!

First, it is one thing to have a vague fear about something, as in a premonition of worry, or a number of concerns and worries. Then one can also be afraid of something very specific, like spiders, snakes, rats or closed in spaces.

When referring to a fear as a singular impression at a particular moment and for a specific reason, then the word temor may be used – in the singular.

Vio que el mar en este lugar era profundo y le sacudió un temor frío (He saw that the sea in that place was deep and a cold fear seized him).

Después de las elecciones, desaparecieron muchos de nuestros temores (After the elections, many of our fears disappeared).

The word miedo is another word, always singular, that refers to fear as an abstraction:

El miedo muchas veces es irrational (Fear is often irrational).

Por miedo, los chicos no quisieron entrar en la casa abandonada (Because of fear, the boys refused to go into the abandoned house).

You can state what someone is afraid of by using the phrase tener miedo de, which is followed by a noun that reveals the cause or source of the fear:

Mis hermanas tienen miedo de las arañas (My sisters are afraid of spiders).

However, if someone is afraid of a person, note that instead of de, the preposition a (personal a) is used:

No tengas miedo a Enrique; en el fondo es cobarde (Don’t be afraid of Enrique; deep down, he’s a coward).

Finally, the verb temer, related obviously to the noun temor, above, is the verb used to show that someone is fearing something – which is shown by the object of the verb. It means to fear:

No hay nada que temer sino el miedo mismo (There is nothing to fear but fear itself).

Note in the foregoing example how the object of the verb to fear is the noun for fear that is employed when the fear is an abstraction. It is what FDR would have said if his speech had been in Spanish!


  • Based on the author’s more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish

This post is part of the series: Spanish Usage

The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.

  1. Spanish Usage Questions: “Above”
  2. Using “Actual” and “Actually” in Spanish
  3. A Problem Preposition: The Ways “About” is Expressed in Spanish
  4. The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb “to Agree”
  5. Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say “Again”
  6. Expressing the Many Meanings of After
  7. Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say “Ahead”
  8. Spanish Usage Questions: “Anyone” and “Anybody”
  9. Using “Anyway…” in Spanish
  10. Let’s Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
  11. What Do You Use for “Around” in Spanish
  12. The Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Ask” are Many!
  13. Beware of False Cognates! How to Express “Attend,” “Assist,” and “Help”
  14. Are You “Cool” or “Cold”? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
  15. The Difference Between “Why” and “Because” in Spanish
  16. The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of “Before”: How to Get it Right in Spanish
  17. Don’t Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of “Behind” in Spanish
  18. Get the Low Down on the Preposition “Below” and Say it Right in Spanish!
  19. Understand Saying “Help” in Spanish
  20. Translating “Beside” & “Besides” into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
  21. Not all Meanings of “But” Are Equal!
  22. Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition “By” in Spanish
  23. What Can the English Word “Can” Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
  24. Spanish Usage Questions: “Corner”
  25. The Word “Country” in Spanish
  26. The Various Meanings of “Outweigh” in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
  27. Expressing the Idea of “Ownership” in Spanish
  28. How to Express “Time & Distance” in Spanish
  29. Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need “Tratar”
  30. Spanish Usage Questions: “Having Fun”
  31. Even a Word Like “Even” Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
  32. Don’t Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express “to fail”
  33. Do You Mean “Fair” Weather, a “Fair” Game or a “Fair” Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
  34. Love, Desire and Wanting – Spanish Style!
  35. Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
  36. You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say “Fear” in Spanish!
  37. Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word “Find”
  38. Discover the Various Meanings of “Middle” and How to Say Them in Spanish
  39. Not All Spanish Words Meaning “Worker” Are Created Equal