Both seem to represent an irrational fear of water. My own research suggests that hydrophobia is often used as a medical term to describe a mental state-change (warning, not a pleasant video) associated with rabies, but it certainly doesn't seem to be used exclusively for that purpose.

What is the fundamental difference between "hydrophobia" and "aquaphobia"? Can they be used interchangeably?

  • @HotLicks - I thought that, but a quick google suggests that they're used in an almost completely swappable way. I strongly suspect it'll turn out that dictionary purists use it one way while the rest of the world uses it another.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 19:27
  • 1
    Since hydrophobia is so strongly bound to rabies, it's ill-advised to try to use it in other senses.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 19:28
  • 1
    Aquaphobia is the more "normal" phobia about, say, getting into a boat.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 19:29
  • @HotLicks - Well, someone used it as the title of a game that sold hundreds of thousands of copies :-)
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 19:30
  • So?? Mortal Combat has sold millions.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 19:33

3 Answers 3


There is no "fundamental" difference between aquaphobia and hydrophobia - both mean (irrational) fear of water - except that in the first, the two root words are Latin and Greek (respectively) in origin, and in the second, both root words are from Greek.

That does not mean, though, that they are interchangeable. Historical use differentiates between the two.

Hydrophobia is the only term used for the phenomenon of pharyngeal spasms occurring in mammals infected with the rabies virus. The difficulty swallowing results in drooling of excess saliva instead of swallowing, and an aversion to liquids, which was labeled (not too accurately) "hydrophobia".

Aquaphobia is an irrational fear of water, specifically fear of potential consequences of entering the water (i.e., drowning).

A doctor would never use the word aquaphobia to describe a symptom of rabies, nor would a careful (?pedantic?) psychologist use hydrophobia for an irrational fear of water (the DSM uses hydrophobia as a symptom of rabies.)

Also, hydrophobic is a fixed term in Chemistry.

  • A pedantic psychologist may very well insist on hydrophobia over aquaphobia —purely on the basis that aquaphobia’s mixing of Latin and Greek words is “wrong.” :P
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 4:47
  • 4
    @KRyan - In that case, the pedantic psychologist would not get paid for treating the patient with a non-DSM diagnosis. Commented May 25, 2018 at 17:00

Aquaphoba is when you have an excessive amount of anxiety if you find any source of water. This can include swimming pool, lakes, oceans, or even a bath tub.

Hydrophobia is extreme or irrational fear of water.

I see no difference personally but that doesn't mean there isn't one.


The similarity between the terms ‛Hydrophobia’ and ‛Aquaphobia’ is that both of them indicate “fear of water”. And this is the foremost reason why people mostly misuse them. ‛Hydrophobia’ refers to an ailment caused by rabies virus that spreads when an animal like a dog bites you. In this case, a person has a logical reason (rabies virus) to be scared of water which includes even fear of a cup of water! On the other hand, ‛Aquaphobia’ is a completely irrational (unreasonable) fear which rises feelings as the person may drown or slip into water or a huge tide may take him/her away. This does symptify any kind of ailment and may be developed in a person right from birth or early youth.

  • This doesn't really add anything that's not already in the accepted answer. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 17:19

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