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While going over the correct prepositions to use with adjectives, I came across a situation I can't define. I'm using a Longman dictionary and a Cambridge grammar, but neither defines the difference between the two options.

  1. 'nervous about'
    e.g. I'm nervous about... my exams / doing something.

  2. 'nervous of'
    e.g. I'm nervous of... him / flying / dogs.

Now, I know that 'being nervous about one's exam' is not the same as 'being nervous of one's exam'. But how can I put the difference into words? Could I say that 'about' means one's nervous because of the exam and 'of' means one's almost afraid of the exam? I can't seem to find a better explanation.

On the other hand, we can say 'I'm nervous about / of flying', so how to explain that 'nervous of' and 'nervous about' can sometimes be interchangeable?

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    FWIW, I don't think I've ever heard nervous of (AmE). Same with "anxious of" (instead of "anxious about"). However "wary of" is common. – Drew Jun 3 '14 at 15:01
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I would say that nervous about describes your anxiety towards the process and possible outcome of a situation, while nervous of describes a general apprehension or (well-founded) scepticism towards the situation itself and is almost a synonym of ‘leery’.

So if you’re nervous about an exam, your anxiety is aimed at the actual process of going through the exam, as well as what the outcome of the exam will be; while if you’re nervous of exams (a bit odd, though in no way an unthinkable phrasing), you are apprehensive of exams as a general thing, feeling that they are not a thing to be trusted.

Of course, being nervous about someone is not at all the same as being nervous of them. If you’re nervous about someone, you have their welfare in mind and you are worrying that something is bothering them (for example); whereas if you’re nervous of them, you are leery of them.

I agree that these two meanings can be quite hard to disentangle (and dictionaries strangely do not seem to mention the distinction at all). It also appears that nervous of is far more common in British English than in American English:

That is definitely a statistically significant difference, one that I never consciously realised before.

  • Yes in AmE nervous of is pretty rare, most likely an error. Scared or frightened of, though, is common. – Oldcat Jun 3 '14 at 18:19

protected by tchrist Jul 9 '17 at 18:21

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