A student asked if you needed an article before the word "fear" in sentences like

"I have (a) fear of height".

From what I know, people usually use "a" before the word "fear" when describing a specific fear they have. However, I used COCA and found that "I have fear of..." sentences actually do exist, but they are, according to what I observed, for more abstract things like

"I have fear of pain"

"I have fear of people"

" I have fear of losing you".

Is my observation correct? Or either one is acceptable in either scenario? Or is using "fear" without the "a" article is just simply informal?

  • Fear is a funny thing. Many people have a fear of heights. Fewer, however, experience the fear known as agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 16:29

2 Answers 2


It's actually probably a bit simpler than you are thinking!

A person/People will always have a fear.

"I have a fear of pain"

"I have a fear of people"

"I have a fear of losing you".

This is because it is countable in the above cases.

However, sometimes fear is used as an abstract concept and, in this case, it can be uncountable.

(A) fear of people stopped him venturing outside

She approached the spider, despite her fear.

I fear for you.

In general, I agree it's hard to tell, but I'd go by the rule that you have A fear of something, but general fear when it's an emotion.

There is a similar ELL question unanswered here

  • 1
    And if, for whatever reason, it really isn't clear if you should use an article or not, you can rephrase it: I'm afraid of heights. Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 16:42

None of those sentences will ever be said.

If you are afraid of heights, someone might say, "She has a fear of heights." You won't say it without the 's', and you won't say "I have a fear of." You will say "I am afraid of". And, for absolutely no reason, when the fear is heights, it is written and said with an 's".

You will also say "I am afraid of spiders," "I am afraid of losing you,", and you "I have a low tolerance for pain".

You can also say, with gramattical correctness, "I have a fear of spiders," which is an object/thing/noun, or "I fear losing you," which is an emotional fear. But, if you are American, you won't say those sentences. If you are American you will only say the things in the middle paragraph. This is not in contrast to other English countries. This is English in general.

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