I recall I once saw in a book that one of the words is usually used when there's a realistic physical threat to one's life, e.g., a terrorism activity is taking place nearby. One of the words is usually used when one's being afraid is due to inner experience rather than some real threat, say, worrying about ghosts after watching a thriller.

Unluckily, I can't remember which is which. Actually, I'm not sure whether the book is correct about this. So, what's the difference between petrified, terrified and horrified?

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    Have you checked a dictionary? Petrified literally means 'turned to stone'. Is the person experiencing terror or horror? Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 12:30
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    @BCLC I watched that movie years ago. It's actually after watching that movie when I realised I need to differentiate some words with similar meanings.
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 12:38
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    Yes, of course I know perfectly well that petrified means unable to move from fear - I was referring to the literal meaning. Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 12:57
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    A careful native speaker might say they were petrified (unable to move because of fear) when a criminal pointed a gun at them, horrified (filled with horror, but not necessarily afraid) at the sight of a possibly gory fatal accident, and terrified (feeling extreme fear) at almost anything capable of causing fear. Less careful speakers might mix them up. Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 13:08
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    @MurrieMehrer - Thanks for the comment, but I clearly did put a question mark there! (BTW it's would have, not would of.) Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 15:27

2 Answers 2


'Petrified' is metaphorical (in this context), and means: 'unable to move because of fear'.

'Terrified' means 'extremely afraid'. More than just 'very' afraid.

'Horrified' means that you are feeling 'horror', or a state of feeling that what you are seeing/hearing/feeling, really shouldn't be happening. It does not necessarily imply fear, although fear could well be a side effect.

For example, if you found a tarantula in your bed you would be most likely to be terrified - possibly petrified, and almost certainly horrified as well.

If you saw a picture of starving children, you should feel horrified, but there is no reason for you to feel in any way fearful - certainly not terrified.


According to Merriam Webster, a respected American dictionary, “horror” has a primary meaning,”painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay,” and a secondary meaning, “intense aversion or repugnance.”

“Terror” on the other hand has a more limited meaning of “intense or overwhelming fear.”

So, “horrified” has a broader field of meaning, at least in American usage, than does “terrified,” but the fields of meaning do overlap. Here is an example of distinguishing among these words

Before the police shot the heavily armed maniac, I was terrified, petrified into shocked silence and immobility; afterwards, I was horrified by the carnage.

In the example above, “horrified” does not imply fear. But “horrified may imply fear in other contexts.

I do not know whether British English normally makes these distinctions.

  • I did say 'You can be horrified by something that is happening to someone else", not "You are" - meaning that it had a broader field of meaning than 'terrified'. Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 15:32
  • Right you are. I shall edit my answer. Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 16:01
  • We can be horrified by things which do not inspire fear in the UK. I was horrified to find that the price of bread has gone up again, for instance.
    – mdewey
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 16:15
  • I simply restrict myself to what I know. Modern British English is different enough from modern American English that I was wishing for sub-titles while watching "The Full Monty." Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 16:29

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