I'm confused by the word "unnerve" which sounds like it might mean "to make nervous," but seems to actually mean, "to emasculate or weaken."

So what would be some words that mean "to make nervous," i.e. to rattle someone, or to make someone anxious? The most direct synonym I'm looking for is "to frighten" or "to fill with dread."

  • It helps if you give a sentence in which you would use the verb.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 21:19

2 Answers 2


Depending on what you are trying to convey, ruffle could be an option. It means

to annoy or upset someone, or to make someone very nervous:

  • He's easily ruffled by criticism. (Cambridge)

As for unnerve, it is more similar in meaning with the verb intimidate. Cambridge defines it as

to make someone feel less confident and slightly frightened

  • No, "ruffle" is not the meaning I'm trying to convey. I'm trying to convey "to frighten," "to shake," or "to fill with dread or fear."
    – gene b.
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 5:15

I don't know where you got the idea that "unnerve" doesn't mean "to make nervous".

Merriam-Webster defines 'unnerve' as:

1: to deprive of courage, strength, or steadiness

2: to cause to become nervous : UPSET

So it does mean what sounds like it might mean as shown in definition 2. Somehow you're mistaken that it only means definition 1.

This is also confirmed by Oxford Learner's Dictionary:

unnerve somebody to make somebody feel nervous or frightened or lose confidence

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