27 Idioms for Fear: Expressions of Anxiety


These idioms paint a picture of fear, ranging from the mild flutter of butterflies in the stomach to the heart-pounding, spine-tingling moments that leave us trembling like a leaf.

In this listicle, we will explore idioms for fear, providing you with their meanings and real-life usage. So, without further ado, let’s delve into the world of fear-related idioms.

idioms for fear

What is an Idiom for Fear?

Idioms are phrases or expressions that don’t have a literal meaning, but they convey a figurative message, often grounded in cultural or historical contexts.

When it comes to idioms for fear, these expressions use words associated with fear or anxiety to describe specific situations, reactions, or feelings.


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Created by Dr. Julia Rossi

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Now, let’s break down the list of fear-related idioms and understand what each one means:

IdiomMeaningIn a Sentence
Jump out of one’s skinTo be extremely startled or surprised.When the fire alarm went off unexpectedly, she jumped out of her skin.
Scared stiffSo frightened that one cannot move or react.During the horror movie, he was scared stiff and couldn’t even scream.
Shiver down one’s spineA sudden, strong feeling of fear or anxiety.The eerie silence in the haunted house sent a shiver down her spine.
Heart in one’s mouthTo feel extremely anxious or fearful, often due to anticipation.As she prepared for the job interview, her heart was in her mouth.
Break out in a cold sweatTo suddenly start sweating due to fear, nervousness, or anxiety.The thought of giving a speech made him break out in a cold sweat.
Chicken outTo decide not to do something out of fear or cowardice.He wanted to go bungee jumping, but he chickened out at the last moment.
Frightened out of one’s witsSo scared that one loses the ability to think or act rationally.The sudden thunderstorm frightened her out of her wits.
Scare the daylights out of someoneTo terrify someone to an extreme degree.The unexpected appearance of the ghost in the movie scared the daylights out of the audience.
Butterflies in one’s stomachTo feel nervous or anxious, often before a significant event.Before her big performance, she had butterflies in her stomach.
Scaredy-catA person who is easily frightened or afraid to take risks.Don’t be such a scaredy-cat; it’s just a harmless spider.
Quaking in one’s bootsTrembling with fear or extreme anxiety.When he heard the ghost story, he was quaking in his boots.
Scare the pants off someoneTo frighten someone significantly.The surprise prank in the dark alley scared the pants off him.
Hair-raisingExtremely frightening or terrifying.The haunted house tour was a hair-raising experience.
Have a panic attackTo experience an intense and sudden episode of fear or anxiety.The crowded subway sometimes makes her have a panic attack.
Scared out of one’s mindExtremely frightened to the point of being unable to think or act rationally.Being alone in the dark forest left him scared out of his mind.
White as a sheetTo appear very pale due to fear, shock, or illness.When he saw the accident, he turned as white as a sheet.
Scare the living daylights out of someoneTo terrify someone to an extreme degree.The sudden thunderstorm scared the living daylights out of the children.
Jump at one’s own shadowTo be excessively jumpy or easily frightened.After watching a horror movie, she would jump at her own shadow.
Scared out of one’s witsExtremely frightened to the point of being unable to think or act rationally.The unexpected noise scared her out of her wits.
Trembling like a leafShaking or trembling with fear or anxiety.The ghostly apparition left him trembling like a leaf.
Scare the bejesus out of someoneTo frighten someone severely.The haunted house attraction aims to scare the bejesus out of visitors.
My heart skips a beatTo experience a sudden moment of fear, surprise, or excitement that causes one’s heart to momentarily skip a beat.When he proposed, her heart skipped a beat.
Petrified with fearSo frightened that one becomes stiff and unable to move.The sight of the bear in the woods left him petrified with fear.
Like a deer in headlightsTo be frozen in fear or shock, unable to react.When the car’s headlights blinded him, he stood there like a deer in headlights.
Paralyzed with frightSo frightened that one cannot move or react.The sudden appearance of the ghost left her paralyzed with fright.
Scare the hell out of someoneTo terrify or frighten someone significantly.The horror movie aimed to scare the hell out of its viewers.
Panic modeA state of extreme fear or anxiety, often leading to irrational behavior.When the fire alarm went off, everyone went into panic mode.

Metaphors can convey the feeling of fear, like comparing it to a shadowy specter lurking in the darkness, ready to pounce. To explore more metaphors for fear, you can visit this link: Metaphors for Fear. Similarly, similes offer comparisons that make fear more relatable, such as saying it’s as paralyzing as a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Discover additional similes for fear here: Similes for Fear.

Idioms for Fear

1. Jump out of One’s Skin

Meaning: To be extremely startled or surprised.

In a Sentence: When the fire alarm went off unexpectedly, she jumped out of her skin.

2. Scared Stiff

Meaning: So frightened that one cannot move or react.

In a Sentence: During the horror movie, he was scared stiff and couldn’t even scream.

3. Shiver Down One’s Spine

Meaning: A sudden, strong feeling of fear or anxiety.

In a Sentence: The eerie silence in the haunted house sent a shiver down her spine.

4. Heart in One’s Mouth

Meaning: To feel extremely anxious or fearful, often due to anticipation.

In a Sentence: As she prepared for the job interview, her heart was in her mouth.

5. Break Out in a Cold Sweat

Meaning: To suddenly start sweating due to fear, nervousness, or anxiety.

In a Sentence: The thought of giving a speech made him break out in a cold sweat.

6. Chicken Out

Meaning: To decide not to do something out of fear or cowardice.

In a Sentence: He wanted to go bungee jumping, but he chickened out at the last moment.

7. Frightened Out of One’s Wits

Meaning: So scared that one loses the ability to think or act rationally.

In a Sentence: The sudden thunderstorm frightened her out of her wits.

8. Scare the Daylights Out of Someone

Meaning: To terrify someone to an extreme degree.

In a Sentence: The unexpected appearance of the ghost in the movie scared the daylights out of the audience.

9. Butterflies in One’s Stomach

Meaning: To feel nervous or anxious, often before a significant event.

In a Sentence: Before her big performance, she had butterflies in her stomach.

10. Scaredy-Cat

Meaning: A person who is easily frightened or afraid to take risks.

In a Sentence: Don’t be such a scaredy-cat; it’s just a harmless spider.

11. Quaking in One’s Boots

Meaning: Trembling with fear or extreme anxiety.

In a Sentence: When he heard the ghost story, he was quaking in his boots.

12. Scare the Pants Off Someone

Meaning: To frighten someone significantly.

In a Sentence: The surprise prank in the dark alley scared the pants off him.

13. Hair-Raising

Meaning: Extremely frightening or terrifying.

In a Sentence: The haunted house tour was a hair-raising experience.

14. Have a Panic Attack

Meaning: To experience an intense and sudden episode of fear or anxiety.

In a Sentence: The crowded subway sometimes makes her have a panic attack.

15. Scared Out of One’s Mind

Meaning: So scared that one feels overwhelmed or panicked.

In a Sentence: Being alone in the dark forest left him scared out of his mind.

16. White as a Sheet

Meaning: To appear very pale due to fear, shock, or illness.

In a Sentence: When he saw the accident, he turned as white as a sheet.

17. Scare the Living Daylights Out of Someone

Meaning: To terrify someone to an extreme degree.

In a Sentence: The sudden thunderstorm scared the living daylights out of the children.

18. Jump at One’s Own Shadow

Meaning: To be excessively jumpy or easily frightened.

In a Sentence: After watching a horror movie, she would jump at her own shadow.

19. Scared Out of One’s Wits

Meaning: Extremely frightened to the point of being unable to think or act rationally.

In a Sentence: The unexpected noise scared her out of her wits.

20. Trembling Like a Leaf

Meaning: Shaking or trembling with fear or anxiety.

In a Sentence: The ghostly apparition left him trembling like a leaf.

21. Scare the Bejesus Out of Someone

Meaning: To frighten someone severely.

In a Sentence: The haunted house attraction aims to scare the bejesus out of visitors.

22. My Heart Skips a Beat

Meaning: To experience a sudden moment of fear, surprise, or excitement that causes one’s heart to momentarily skip a beat.

In a Sentence: When he proposed, her heart skipped a beat.

23. Petrified with Fear

Meaning: So frightened that one becomes stiff and unable to move.

In a Sentence: The sight of the bear in the woods left him petrified with fear.

24. Like a Deer in Headlights

Meaning: To be frozen in fear or shock, unable to react.

In a Sentence: When the car’s headlights blinded him, he stood there like a deer in headlights.

25. Paralyzed with Fright

Meaning: So frightened that one cannot move or react.

In a Sentence: The sudden appearance of the ghost left her paralyzed with fright.

26. Scare the Hell Out of Someone

Meaning: To terrify or frighten someone significantly.

In a Sentence: The horror movie aimed to scare the hell out of its viewers.

27. Panic Mode

Meaning: A state of extreme fear or anxiety, often leading to irrational behavior.

In a Sentence: When the fire alarm went off, everyone went into panic mode.

Quizzes About The Idioms in The Article

Quiz 1:
Idiom: What does it mean to “jump out of one’s skin”?
A) To feel extremely startled or surprised.
B) To feel cold and shivery.
C) To jump off a high surface.

Quiz 2:
Idiom: What does it mean to be “scared stiff”?
A) To feel extremely cold.
B) To be so frightened that one cannot move or react.
C) To be overly excited.

Quiz 3:
Idiom: When might you feel a “shiver down your spine”?
A) When you’re feeling happy.
B) When you’re suddenly startled or feel extreme fear.
C) When you’re warm and cozy.

Quiz 4:
Idiom: What does it mean when your “heart is in your mouth”?
A) You’re feeling extremely thirsty.
B) You’re feeling anxious or fearful.
C) You’re excited.

Quiz 5:
Idiom: What does it mean to “break out in a cold sweat”?
A) To suddenly start sweating due to fear, nervousness, or anxiety.
B) To become extremely cold.
C) To exercise vigorously.

Quiz 6:
Idiom: If someone “chickens out,” what do they do?
A) They become brave and fearless.
B) They decide not to do something out of fear or cowardice.
C) They become aggressive.

Quiz 7:
Idiom: What does it mean to be “quaking in one’s boots”?
A) To feel extremely cold.
B) To be trembling with fear or extreme anxiety.
C) To feel excited.

Quiz 8:
Idiom: If something “scares the daylights out of someone,” what does it do?
A) It makes someone extremely happy.
B) It terrifies someone to an extreme degree.
C) It confuses someone.

Quiz 9:
Idiom: What are “butterflies in one’s stomach” a sign of?
A) Extreme hunger.
B) Feeling nervous or anxious, often before a significant event.
C) Feeling very calm.

Quiz 10:
Idiom: What does it mean to be a “scaredy-cat”?
A) To be a fearless adventurer.
B) To be a person who is easily frightened or afraid to take risks.
C) To be a great leader.

Feel free to use these quizzes for testing your knowledge or sharing them with others to learn more about these idioms for fear!

Conclusion

These idioms for fear provide a colorful and expressive way to convey various levels of anxiety and terror in everyday conversations. From feeling as if your heart is in your mouth to being scared out of your wits, these expressions allow us to share our emotional experiences with others in a relatable and vivid manner.

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