I wonder if you agree that "dread" and "terror" mean quite similar that we can almost always use them interchangeably!

Actually, based on dictionary definitions, they both mean, **a stronger version" of fear that we have when we are extremely frightened.

I have found a link including the claim below:

  • Dread is defined as terror or apprehension about something in the future.

All being said, it would sound logical to say that "dreadful" and "terrifying" should mean the same.

Somewhere else, it has mentioned that:

  • Dread is the first and strongest of the three kinds of fear.

I wonder what do you think of them? To me, more or less they all mean the same, though some people have tried to distinguish them, but I doubt if even native speakers observe such tiny differences as some default rules.

For instance, I don't know how a native would interpret and utilize this description as a rule:

  • The distinction between horror and terror is a standard literary and psychological concept applied especially to Gothic and horror fiction.1 Terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually follows a frightening sight, sound, or otherwise experience. [Source]

Please note that I have read all the related threads on the forum like [this], but I'm afraid I didn't find them helpful enough.

2 Answers 2


I think Steven King said it best:

"Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it's when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It's when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there's nothing there..."

In other words, horror is the sight of something horrible and disturbing and terror is a fear of something unseen.

Horror = Entering a room and seeing a huge, scary monster.

Terror = Entering a pitch black room and hearing a nasty snarl.

As a lessened, but perhaps more relatable analogy: seeing a shark while swimming in the ocean would be akin to horror, while swimming in murky, swampy water with no idea what lies under the surface would be more like terror.

Lastly, I see dread as more closely related to severe apprehension of coming events (and probably the least extreme of the three). For example, you might dread an upcoming test or speech, but saying you feel horror or terror about it might be taking it a little too far. That said, there may still be some overlap with terror if dread is taken to its most extreme. After all, it may well be that you are, in fact, terrified of that speech (as the thought of it hangs silently over your shoulders, breathing coldly on the back of your neck).

  • Thank you @WillRoss1. That was a good explanation and I'm almost convinced with "horror" and "terror", but not with "dread". Actually, I don't understand it well. If "terror" and "horror" are the stronger versions of "fear" (knowing the difference between these two,) then what is "dread"?
    – A-friend
    Jul 15, 2019 at 4:18
  • 1
    Dread is also a type of fear, but it is more focused on anticipation of scary things to come. It is the awful feeling you get when you know you are going to have to get into that murky water. Where horror and terror are essentially just our brains telling us "this is dangerous, get out of here", dread is more of a early warning: "There may be a big, scary monster on the other side of that door, maybe it's best not to open it".
    – WillRoss1
    Jul 15, 2019 at 11:06
  • Also, unlike huge and enormous, which mean pretty much the exact same thing as "big" only...bigger...and have a pretty clear relationship (enormous > huge), terror, horror and dread, while certainly related to and stronger than fear, each add their own unique information and can't really be compared to each other in terms of intensity.
    – WillRoss1
    Jul 15, 2019 at 11:24

As far as I can remember, Dread, Terror and Horror are described as following:

Fear: A generic word for the feeling of something you are afraid of.

Dread: "The feeling of impending doom".

So in other words, dread is heightened fear and can be real or imagined and example of it would be:

"There is something in the dark and it is coming to get me, I just know it", "Something bad is going to happen, I just feel it" or "I feel something dreadful is going to happen".

Terror: The heightened fear before something bad happening to you.

Thus, terror is very real and comes prior pain and suffering. Example of it would be:

"I watched in terror as the growling jaguar came closer" or "I felt the terror as the murderer approached me, knife in his hand".

Horror: "The feeling of revulsion that follows a frightening sight, sound, or other experience".

Thus horror is not personal, it is geared towards external stimuli, like feeling helpless to act when others are experiencing something horrifying and being afraid it might happen to you too. Examples of horror would be:

"I watched in horror as the soldiers burned down the village", "As I walked I watched the horrifying sight of flayed, crucified people on the side of the road" or "Oh' the horror of living in such age of cruelty!".

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