E 0327          FEAR

The word " fear " is of Germanic origin .

H 1060            א ר י                     

Concept of root : fear

 Hebrew word


English meanings

א ר י


to fear

Related English words


Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


א ר י


to fear

y . r (‘). <

*w . r (‘).




to fear, respect

v . r .

Old English

fær ;






fear, danger, peril;

to make afraid, frighten

f . r


to fear

to fear

f . r

Old Saxon








to fear, be afraid

f r . s

Middle Dutch



to make afraid ;

to be afraid

v r . s




to fear

v r . z



Proto-Semitic *YAR'Ē < WAR'Ē --- *WĒR Indo-European



In English we see the word fear used to express two quite different human feelings. One is the fear of violence, that is related to the idea of "to be afraid" . Naturally "afraid" is based on the same original root " F . R " as "fear". The other human feeling expressed by the word "fear" is that versus God. This kind of usage is seen in many languages.


The difference between English and Hebrew is that the latter has weighted the root with an Aleph, that can be defined as " a specific vowel after a brief stop in the flow of sound " . The chosen vowel is here an E.


Besides these two fears, for something that may happen to us and the general "fear" of the Lord, a third one enters into the terrain of this root in a nearly inevitable way, that is the concept of "to honour". This is a feeling and action that unites with that of fear in the human position versus the Creator. After that it is bound to be used also regarding inter-human relationships. This is found in Old English "ārian", German "ehren" and Dutch "eren" .


In this specialized root the initial W or V is not present . It may have been abolished or we have parallel developments . It must be noted that generally these words for " to honour " are seen as coming from a hypothetical Germanic root " *aizo " . This on the basis of the Gothic verb "aistan = to respect". Also Greek "αιδως , aidos " is called in, but that does first of all carry the message of "shame" and "timorosity" is secondary.


Another complication lies in the shift between transitive ( to make afraid, menace, be dangerous for ) and intransitive ( to fear, be afraid, in danger ) uses of the root. We see from Old Saxon "frēson" to Middle Dutch "vresen" those transitive meanings, but also the intransitive ones .


There is one more important development to be seen on the basis of this root. In original human "coining" of words, those initially often remained loose from absolute values. This is seen in words for "to come" and "to go", for "to rise" and "to descend". In the case of the root " W . R ", like its sisters " V. R " and " F . R ", we see that it is used both to express the case of " having fear " as that of "not having fear ", which in older societies basically was that of "having peace ".


A clear example we see, once more, in the two Dutch words "vrees = fear " and "vrede = peace ". These two share the first two consonants "V + R" and have diversified by the application of two different third consonants, respectively S and D. This or similar roots for the idea of "peace " are found in most Germanic languages, such as Old Saxon " frithu", Old English "fridu", Old High German "fridu", Old Norse "fridr" . English has abandoned this , choosing the Latin root of "peace".



  • Hebrew also uses an emphasized form of " י ר א " , by changing the "aleph" into an "ayin", that has a more audible interruption of the flow of sound : " י ר ע , yar‛à". This root carries the message of "trembling" or "quivering", especially on account of fear, that may be religious.


  • Proto-Semitic . This root is also found in Ugaritic "Y R Aleph" used to express "to fear". Probably Proto-Semitic had already this newer form "* י ר א, Y R Aleph " and perhaps still as well an older "* ו ר א, W R Aleph." In the comparison we use the same vowels seen in Hebrew, as they may have been present in Proto-Semitic.



  • English " fright" is based on an extended root " F R . G " in which the third consonant perhaps was used to emphasize. "Fright" is stronger than "fear" . This root than has been pronounced, as is a good Germanic habit, with a concluding dental, that as well serves as a reinforcement of meaning or pronunciation. We see it in Old English " fryhto " and "furhto" and Old High German " forhta ", besides Middle Dutch "vrucht". One notes the metathesis of the R between the various words .


    Adding an extra consonant to diversify meanings is a good practice in many tongues.


  • Proto-Germanic . Words with "F . R . S" From our table we see that not in all Germanic words the third consonant "S" is present. This makes it probable that this "S" is a later development in Germanic, not yet or not yet fully used in Proto-Germanic. We note that also Latin and Hebrew do not have that S or a comparable consonant. It is therefore probable that the "S" where it is found, is the result of a later development, perhaps not even started in Proto-Germanic.


    An interesting example of words with such an "S" is given by Old Saxon, that besides "freso= fear" and "freson = to fear", has "fresa = danger, ruin". Sister words are Old High German "freisa" and Old Frisian "frasa, frase" with the same meanings. The resulting hypothesis for Proto-Germanic would be "* F Ē R -", but possibly already extended with "S" : "FR Ē S-.


    "F R . GH T". In many languages there is another development, in which "fear" , "to fear" and " to make afraid" are expressed, as in English itself with an extended form, in which a final T is added, preceded by a GH-sound or a similar one. German "Furcht" with its identical predecessor. Together with this Old English "fryhtu" and modern "fright" are clear examples. This double suffix, found as well in Gothic and Middle Dutch, but as such no more in Dutch, may have been added in two phases, and a metathesis may have taken place in amongst others English. But this may well have begun already in Proto-Germanic. As vowel an "O" or perhaps "U" may have been used: "*F O R GH T"


  • Indo European and Latin. "Fear" and its sisters often are considered as derived from an Indo European root " *per = to try, risk ". On this basis also "peril" would be related. And with that also "experience, expert, experiment ". But then this "*per 5" is really considered as one in a row of seven identical roots "*per " . It has number 5 with its own message, with other six "roots "*per" standing for other concepts.


    One must agree that a root " P . R" may be related to "V . R" and more easily "F . R", but it is necessary to find common concepts in order to establish kinship. "Trying" may bring along "risks" but only sometimes. And "risks" occur mostly without trying anything at all.


  • Indo-European. Often Latin "vereor" is seen as related to Greek words that express the concepts of "to see" or "to guard". It must be remarked that "vereor" and its composite verbs give no basis for such a supposition. Instead "vereor", that means basically just "to fear" and then secondarily has the derived meanings : "to feel awe, respect, veneration" as in the fear of God, is obviously a cognate of the Germanic group of "to fear".


    With the available information from Latin and Germanic a hypothesis for Indo-European can be "*W Ē R-".





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 17/12/2012 at 13.01.10