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I fear/am afraid I changed my gender.

The very thing I fear/am afraid of is the thing that I can't realize that I actually changed not the thing that I consciously know that I changed. That in fact I hide and fear being/am afraid to be open instead!

What is the difference between using to fear and to be afraid of in these examples?

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4 Answers 4

The meanings of fear as verb are, mainly:

  • be afraid of someone or something as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening
  • feel anxiety or apprehension on behalf of
  • avoid or put off doing something because one is afraid

The meanings of afraid are, mainly:

  • feeling fear or anxiety; frightened
  • worried that something undesirable will occur or be
  • unwilling or reluctant to do something for fear of the consequences

The words share some of the meanings. For example, it is possible to use sentences similar to the following ones to express apology or regret:

I'm afraid I don't understand.
I'll buy her book, though not, I fear, the hardback version.

There are some set phrases where fear is used, as:

  • for fear of
  • never fear
  • put the fear of God in someone
  • without fear or favor
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It's true never fear is a stock phrase - just as 'dated' as be not afraid, in my opinion. The other stock usages are all nouns. Cutting to the chase, I don't see there's anything here making a semantic distinction between "to fear" and "to be afraid [of]". –  FumbleFingers Aug 6 '11 at 23:48

In both OP's example sentences there's no difference in meaning between fear and be afraid [of].

I have absolutely no idea why OP chose to offer the bizarre sentence I fear I have changed my gender, but I'm going to assume it's in the context of a conversation with a friend you haven't seen for a while, but was your same-sex pal. And who hasn't noticed the sex-change while you chat in a bar, and is now steering you towards the wrong sex toilets assuming you'll go in together for a pee.

Okay, that's a bit surreal. I didn't write the original sentence. It's the only interpretation I can put on it, so I'll assume it could have been I am afraid / fear I'm a bit late. Can I still buy a drink before you close the bar?.

In short, the first usage appears to be conventional politeness, meaning something like I [slightly] regret (whatever). In this usage, I fear is somewhat dated and formal-sounding.

The second usage I assume is literal, evocative of genuine anxiety, fright, or even terror. I personally perceive I fear as slightly more intense, but I doubt there's much consensus there.

TL;DR Just read the first line of the post.

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While 'fear the government' and 'fear your teacher' do not equate to respect in more modern times and cultures, they have been known to hold that connotation.

For example, if one were to say 'fear the government' during the Inquisition it would be taken more as 'fear their power, what they can do to you,' while some may be willing to argue this is the same as 'to be afraid' I'd argue that you can't be afraid of something and respect it.

"I am afraid of the government" and "I fear the government" are similar in that they share a feeling of anxiety where 'the government' is concerned, however, in fearing the government you are also expressing "reverent awe" towards it. This awe may not be positive, and your reverence may be more out deference than respect, but it is there none the less.

It's semantics more so than anything, but I feel "I fear" is different from "I am afraid of" because we can say "I have a fear of" and yet don't. "I have a fear of the government" holds none of the reverence that "I fear the government" does.

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In this case they're the same in meaning, but the difference lies in "fear", which has meanings that cannot apply to "am afraid".

"Fear" and "am afraid" are generally interchangeable in most cases, but there are two situations where "fear" needs to be used, while "am afraid" would be incorrect:

I fear for my safety.

One cannot write "I am afraid of my safety." It would imply that your safety is intimidating you. In this case, "fear" has the meaning of "to have concern for."

The second situation is "fear" being used to mean "reverential awe." :

Fear God, and love your brethren!

In this case, "am afraid" would be inappropriate. "Be afraid of God, and love your brethren!" would not have the meaning of "reverential awe".

But in most cases, "fear" and "am afraid" are interchangeable, and in the case you gave, it is so.

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@Nicholas, changed it. –  Thursagen Aug 6 '11 at 13:51
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I don't think your distinction is particularly strong. One could certainly say "I'm afraid for my safety." It is not idiomatic, but it means the same. Your change there was in the preposition not the word fear/afraid. In terms of "fear God" that is a very specific Biblical idiom, that really can't be applied anywhere else (except in Bible allusions). "Fear the government" does not mean respect them. "Fear your teacher" does not mean respect him. –  Fraser Orr Aug 6 '11 at 15:51

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