verb (used with object)

to make afraid or fearful; throw into a fright; terrify; scare.
to drive (usually followed by away, off, etc.) by scaring: to frighten away pigeons from the roof.

verb (used without object)

to become frightened: a timid child who frightens easily.

Origin of frighten

First recorded in 1660–70; fright + -en1
Related formsfright·en·a·ble, adjectivefright·en·er, nounfright·en·ing·ly, adverbnon·fright·en·ing, adjectivenon·fright·en·ing·ly, adverbo·ver·fright·en, verbun·fright·en·ing, adjective

Synonyms for frighten

Synonym study

1. Frighten, alarm, scare, terrify, terrorize, appall all mean to arouse fear in people or animals. To frighten is to shock with sudden, startling, but usually short-lived fear, especially that arising from the apprehension of physical harm: to frighten someone by a sudden noise. To alarm is to arouse the feelings through the realization of some imminent or unexpected danger: to alarm someone by a scream. To scare is to frighten, often without the presence of real danger: Horror movies really scare me. To terrify is to strike with violent, overwhelming, or paralyzing fear: to terrify a city by lawless acts. To terrorize is to terrify in a general, continued, systematic manner, either wantonly or in order to gain control: His marauding armies terrorized the countryside. To appall is to overcome or confound by dread, dismay, shock, or horror: The suffering caused by the earthquake appalled him. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for frighten

Contemporary Examples of frighten

Historical Examples of frighten

  • In growth all is adjusted to capacity; it is not meant to shock, force, or frighten.

  • And all the little disfiguring hurts of life—they frighten me!

  • There was nothing in that to frighten her: there was everything to make her feel content and proud.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

  • The work was hard, and the weather cold; but these did not frighten me.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • This man said I must be operated on by a burning process, all of which was said to frighten me to duty.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for frighten


verb (tr)

to cause fear in; terrify; scare
to drive or force to go (away, off, out, in, etc) by making afraid
Derived Formsfrightened, adjectivefrightening, adjectivefrighteningly, adverb
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

Word Origin and History for frighten

1660s, from fright + -en (1). Related: Frightened; frightening. The earlier verb was simply fright (Old English fyrhtan) "to frighten."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with frighten


see scare out of one's wits.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.