[ foh-bee-uh ]
/ ˈfoʊ bi ə /
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an intense, persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, situation, or person that manifests in physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, or shortness of breath, and that motivates avoidance behavior.
an aversion toward, dislike of, or disrespect for a thing, idea, person, or group.
Should you take this quiz on “shall” versus “should”? It should prove to be a quick challenge!
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Compare specific phobia.

Origin of phobia

First recorded in 1780–90; extracted from nouns ending in -phobia

historical usage of phobia

See -phobia.

Other definitions for phobia (2 of 2)


a combining form meaning “fear,” occurring in loanwords from Greek (hydrophobia); on this model, used in the names of anxiety disorders that have the general sense “dread of, aversion toward” that specified by the initial element (agoraphobia); on the same model, used in words that name hostility toward a thing or idea, or a specific group, with the sense “antipathy toward or dislike of, disrespect or disdain for” the object or people specified by the initial element (technophobia; xenophobia).

Origin of -phobia

From Latin, from Greek, equivalent to -phob(os) “panic fear” + -ia noun suffix; see origin at -phobe, -ia

historical usage of -phobia

Normal fears can be adaptive for survival and evolution. Fearing animals or dangerous natural environments can inform behaviors that keep people safe. However, when a normal fear becomes extreme, out of proportion to the stimulus, persistent, or irrational, it is considered a phobia. Specific phobias are named with a root that describes the trigger stimulus, plus the combining form -phobia. Some of these -phobia words are well-known: arachnophobia, claustrophobia. Others are novel combinations that use the common combining form -phobia to name uncommon fears: alliumphobia, xocolatophobia. Despite knowing that their fear is disproportionate or irrational, people with a specific phobia have uncontrolled physical reactions including rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, and difficulty breathing.
There is another category of words that use the combining form -phobia to simply make antonyms of words that use the combining form -philia to describe affinity, love, or attraction, as Anglophobia versus Anglophilia. These -phobia words are not associated with a physical fear response. Instead, they indicate an aversion or distaste: ergophobia, sitophobia.
In many cases, these words indicate intolerance toward a group of people as defined by nationality, ancestry, sexual identity or orientation, creed, or race: homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia. Though there is an element of fear when interacting with the unknown or the Other, words in this category are not primarily about anxiety; rather, they are commonly associated with hostility. The use of -phobia words to describe negative attitudes toward groups of people is therefore frequently criticized. Advocates and activists representing these groups recommend using the prefix anti- instead, in words such as antigay, antitrans, anti-Islam.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does -phobia mean?

The combining form -phobia is used like a suffix meaning “fear.” It is often used in scientific terms, especially in psychology and biology.

The form -phobia comes from Greek phóbos, meaning “fear” or “panic.” The Latin translation is timor, “fear,” which is the source of words such as timid and timorous.

What are variants of –phobia?

While -phobia doesn’t have any variants, it is related to two other combining forms: -phobic and -phobe. Want to know more? Check out our Words that Use articles for each form.

Examples of -phobia

An example of a word you may have encountered that features -phobia is agoraphobia, “an irrational or disproportionate fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas.”

The agora- part of the word comes from Greek agorā́, meaning “assembly” or “marketplace.” And -phobia means “fear,” as we’ve seen. So, agoraphobia literally translates to “fear of the marketplace.”

What are some words that use the combining form –phobia?

What are some other forms that -phobia may be commonly confused with?

Break it down!

The combining form hydro- means “water.” With this in mind, what does the scientific term hydrophobia mean in everyday language?

How to use phobia in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for phobia (1 of 2)

/ (ˈfəʊbɪə) /

psychiatry an abnormal intense and irrational fear of a given situation, organism, or object

Word Origin for phobia

C19: from Greek phobos fear

British Dictionary definitions for phobia (2 of 2)


n combining form
indicating an extreme abnormal fear of or aversion toacrophobia; claustrophobia

Derived forms of -phobia

-phobic, adj combining form

Word Origin for -phobia

via Latin from Greek, from phobos fear
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for phobia (1 of 2)

[ fōbē-ə ]

A persistent, abnormal, or irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid the feared stimulus.
A strong fear, dislike, or aversion.

Medical definitions for phobia (2 of 2)


An intense, abnormal, or illogical fear of a specified thing:claustrophobia.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Cultural definitions for phobia

[ (foh-bee-uh) ]

An extreme and often unreasonable fear of some object, concept, situation, or person.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.