Faroush from Iran asks:
What is the meaning of 'afraid' in different sentences and situations?
Rachel Wicaksono answers:
This is an interesting question, Farhoush and I'm afraid that there are at least seven ways to use the adjective 'afraid'!
The most common meaning of 'afraid' is the one I have just used to introduce the topic -when we want to politely tell someone something that may upset, disappoint, annoy or even worry them.
In terms of the grammar, we can say either:
'I'm afraid that there are at least seven ways' OR...
'I'm afraid there are at least seven ways' - without using 'that'.
We usually hear this meaning of 'afraid' in spoken English.
The next most common meaning of 'afraid' is 'to be frightened'.
But remember that 'afraid' can't be used before a noun, so we can't talk about 'an easily afraid person'. That's not right.
Instead, try these:
'He's an easily frightened person' or even simpler, 'He's easily frightened.'
'He's afraid of something' - for example, ?He's afraid of spiders?
'He's afraid to do something - for example, ?He's afraid to ask for help.?
'He's afraid of doing something - for example, ?He's afraid of flying.?
So lots of examples there!
Less common uses of the adjective 'afraid' are used as a way of saying either 'yes' and 'no'.
'Afraid' + not... is used to mean 'no'
And 'Afraid' + so... is used to mean 'yes'.
Here's an example of how we can use 'afraid' to mean 'no':
A: Are you doing anything nice this weekend, Femi?
F: I'm afraid not, I have to work - I need the money!
Or when someone calls and the person they want to speak to isn't there:
A: Could I speak to Sun Chen please?
B: I'm afraid not, he's not available at the moment. Would you like to leave a message?
Next, 'afraid' meaning 'yes':
A: Are you leaving now, Yvonne?
Y: I'm afraid so, I have to be home by 9 o'clock.
So let's sum up...
We can use the word 'afraid' in the following ways:
First, to politely tell someone something that may disappoint them.
Second, to simply mean: 'frightened'.
And third, to mean 'yes' when we say 'I'm afraid so' -
and 'no' when we say 'I'm afraid not'.
So, to return to the most common meaning of 'afraid'; I'm afraid that there are several uses of the word! And I hope this has helped.
Rachel has taught English and trained teachers in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Japan and the UK. She is an IELTS examiner and a trainer and assessor for the Cambridge ESOL Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Currently, Rachel works at York St John University where she is Head of Programme for the MA English Language Teaching and the International Foundation Certificate.
Audio - Download the answer (mp3 - 1.04mb)
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