"X is dreaded by Y", who is the one causing the dread - and who is on the receiving end?

5 Answers 5


Well, you could say X is dreaded by Y (where Y is the frightened one). But it sounds a bit odd.

Y dreads X is shorter and easier to grasp.

Y is really scared of X is longer but actually more likely to used, I think.

  • Our answers were posted in the exact same second! I have never seen that before. Apr 3, 2011 at 4:09
  • I wouldn't say X is dreaded by Y sounds odd at all; indeed, in some sentences, the passive sounds better than the active. The tyrant was dreaded by all sounds more natural to my ear than all dreaded the tyrant.
    – Jez
    Jun 20, 2011 at 9:32
  • @Jez: I can't say exactly why, but I agree with you about your two sentences. Although to be honest they both sound like they come from a fairy story, or from a long time ago. In fact, I'm starting think the word dread itself is becoming archaic. Jun 20, 2011 at 11:15

X is causing the dread, and Y is affected by it. The verb means "to fear": X is feared by Y, i.e. Y fears X. If you are dreaded, you cause dread. If you have dread, you dread something dreadful.

I know, dreadful (causing dread) isn't entirely logical. The suffix -ful is to blame, because it is used in different ways; consider "hopeful" (person experiencing hope, or thing causing hope) and "painful" (thing causing pain).

The King dreaded his mother's arrival.

His face turned pale when the dreaded silhouette appeared in the entrance to the throne room.

She was dreaded by all for her lashing tongue and dominating character.

The verb to dread was once also used in the opposite sense "to cause fear", but this sense is now obsolete; the Oxford English Dictionary's latest quotation of this sense is from 1681.


It seems that it could read either way. Using dreaded as a transitive verb it reads X fears Y. Using it as an adjective Y fears X. I do agree with the others that i's unclear and probably a new construction is probably best. I vote for just 'X dreads Y'.

  • The princess was dreaded by the monster? That's just backwards. Jul 12, 2011 at 13:41

If I were to say

He dreads the test tomorrow

It means that 'he' is feeling worry or fear regarding the test tomorrow. I could also apply the passive voice

The test tomorrow is dreaded by him

While I am not one who pushes for limitation of passive, as many do, I would probably avoid it in this case.

Therefore, in your example (X is dreaded Y), X is the scary thing, though I would probably opt instead for the construction

Y dreads X

If you are looking for a more comfortable usage of the word 'dreaded', it is most often applied as an adjective:

The dreaded demon walked towards her.

where 'dreaded' means 'very scary'.


The clause is in passive voice, so the noun before the verb is the direct object of the verb, and the one following the word "by" is the ablative object (which is essentially the same as being the subject of the verb).

The passive-voice "X is dreaded by Y" has the same meaning as the active-voice "Y dreads X".

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