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Why is it "j’ai peur" instead of "je suis peur"?

And also is it okay to say "avoir peur"?

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  • Welcome to French Language Stack Exchange! Please consider searching your topic before posting a new question since so many of the basics have been covered to death. There are questions on this from a variety of perspectives: avoir vs. etre, agreement of the second item, intensification with "très" (P.S. it's not clear that it's a noun), and a list of similar expressions. – Luke Sawczak Mar 3 at 13:17
  • There is nothing that different between French and English here: I am afraid can be literally translated by je suis effrayé while j'ai peur is closer to I have fear. – jlliagre Mar 3 at 13:46
  • @jlliagre Although technically grammatically equivalent, I don't think that's a good route to go. In the first place, "I have fear, I have hunger, I have thirst" etc. are rarely if ever used in English compared to this being the normal way in French, which suggests that the translation isn't apt. In the second place, such a mapping function does not produce valid English for all inputs: *I have cold, *I have hot, *I have sleep are not good. – Luke Sawczak Mar 3 at 13:52
  • @LukeSawczak Yes. My point was about the fact peur and afraid do not match, and for that reason, the verb used are different. J'ai is also close to I feel so with you examples, that might be I am/feel chill, I feel warmth, I feel tiredness. Of course, these aren't the usual idiomatic ways to say it but I guess you got the idea. – jlliagre Mar 3 at 14:30
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First of all, avoir peur in French mean being afraid in English.

The definition of "afraid" is the following:

feeling fear or anxiety; frightened.

So the most important is to understand this is a feeling, which mean we won't use to be / être to express it.

In French (in general cases) we use:

Verbe être / to be when talking about a condition.

Il est malade. He is sick.

Ils sont fatigués. They are tired.

Verbe avoir / to have when talking about a feeling.

Ils ont faim. They are hungry.

Elle a peur. She is afraid.


So in conclusion we use "j’ai peur" instead of "je suis peur" because "being afraid" in French is considered a feeling and not a condition.

  • No categories will be fully coherent when applied to the full list. – Luke Sawczak Mar 3 at 13:36
  • Yes I agree that what I wrote can be confusing for a for a French native speaker, but I just did my best to make it clear for him to understand using simple examples. – Ced Mar 3 at 13:40
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    Right, and it may be helpful for the couple of examples given, but it quickly breaks down with further data. One simple reason is that there are alternative wordings for many of these. Is hunger a feeling or a state/condition? J'ai faim but Je suis affamé ; J'ai soif but Je suis assoiffé ; J'ai peur but Je suis effrayé ; J'ai mal but Je suis malade ; J'ai sommeil but Je suis fatigué. The reason is not rooted in semantics. You can cover a lot of ground with a few grammatical rules ("Use être if it looks like a past participle") but even that won't work for all cases. – Luke Sawczak Mar 3 at 13:47
  • Yep I completely agree with you. – Ced Mar 3 at 15:46
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What you are trying to translate is "I am scared." or "I am afraid.". In French you do not use "to be", that is "être", instead it's always "avoir" ; therefore you say this;

J'ai peur.

"Je suis peur." is always incorrect.

The difference is that in English you use an adjective (afraid, scared), which is an estate, that of being overwhelmed with fear in this case, whereas in French you use the corresponding noun instead (la peur). Obviously, you can't say "Je suis la peur." or "Je suis peur.". So, what you say is something as "I have in me the feeling of fear.", somewhat shortened (I have fear.).

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