I am looking for a word that expresses that you are suddenly very afraid, frightened because of the actions of someone else. For example,

Mr. Smith had not expected his children to be inside his room, so when he entered the room and his children jumped on him he ______.

I'm not looking for something like became afraid or became frightened, because that expresses more long-term afraidness.

7 Answers 7


To be startled would work:

Mr. Smith had not expected his children to be inside his room, so when he entered the room and they jumped on him he was startled.

From Dictionary.com's entry on startle:

  1. to disturb or agitate suddenly as by surprise or alarm.
  2. to cause to start involuntarily, by or as by a sudden shock.

Or to jump. One can jump in surprise, see meaning 3 here:

to move or jerk suddenly, as from surprise or shock.

Although that wouldn't look too good in your example sentence since the word "jumped" already appears there. I would rephrase it as:

Mr. Smith had not expected his children to be inside his room, so when he entered the room and they sprang on him he jumped.

  • This works for what I'm writing, I was especially looking for "to cause to start involuntarily, by or as by a sudden shock." Thank you!
    – wythagoras
    Dec 3, 2015 at 18:59

Consider spook. It's often used to describe a horse being suddenly startled, but also can be applied to humans:

to make frightened or frantic
especially : to startle into violent activity (MW)

Here's an example sentence:

The news spooked investors, and stock prices fell. (TFD)

  • I would go with spook. :)
    – user140086
    Dec 3, 2015 at 18:21

You may be looking for panicked:

To affect or be affected with panic

and panic defined as

A sudden, overpowering feeling of fear, often affecting many people at once


Consider freeze:

Become suddenly motionless or paralyzed with fear or shock


Another single-word alternative is start:

To move suddenly because you are afraid or surprised by something

(Macmillan Dictionary)


Consider, he shuddered. WordReference

shudder: (of a a person) tremble convulsively, typically as a result of fear or revulsion. OED

  • This is what I first thought of, because shuddering is more of a gut reaction, almost a biological response which indicates the onset of fear. Dec 4, 2015 at 15:34

The question and the sample sentence have some issues:

  1. Firstly, both "frightened" and "afraid" are regarded as strong terms, and quite negative emotional / physical experiences, so why would you wish to apply this to a father being surprised by his children — wouldn't it be a fun thing?

  2. Secondly, the sentence construction contains two awkward repeats ("room" and "children") and this can be readily corrected, including by using a pronoun.

  3. The term "inside his room" is fairly irregular, and "in his room" is sufficient.

  4. Words that might suit include startled, surprised, shocked, "given a start" (old-fashioned), "got a shock", "got a fright" (less negative than the adjectives "frightened" and "frightening") — and a couple of Americanisms (okay in certain contexts) — ambushed or blind-sided

  • It'd be helpful to focus on your point #4 and do more to support your suggestions there. Dec 3, 2015 at 22:32

Perhaps frighted? (As opposed to frightened the adjective.) A bit of an obscure word, but certainly a valid one.

  • Hi, Stackstuck—and welcome to English Language & Usage. I like the word suggestion frighted very much; but at this site, even when a question asks for nothing more than a single word that means something, we try to make the answer more self-contained and immediately meaningful to readers by supplying additional pertinent information. In this case you could make your answer more useful by adding a definition of frighted from a reputable dictionary (citing the dictionary by name), to give a more precise sense of why the word makes a good choice. Please consider doing so.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 4, 2015 at 15:38
  • @SvenYargs: Any suggestions, then (for dictionaries)?
    – Stackstuck
    Dec 5, 2015 at 3:29
  • ...No, frighted != frighten or (precisely) to take fright, dictionaries...Although the latter is pretty close.
    – Stackstuck
    Dec 5, 2015 at 3:55
  • Hello, again, Starstruck. Sorry I didn't see your question until now; I've been away for the past week. You can find various online versions of standard dictionaries (including, I believe, Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and Collins); or you can use a reputable print dictionary (any of the above plus American Heritage, Random House, Longman, Encarta, and various others.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 12, 2015 at 9:02

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