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Imagine a scenario where a man is acting creepily towards a woman. Writing from her perspective, she might say something like

他让我感到害怕
He makes me feel afraid

but 害怕 seems too strong here. She's not fearing for her life: she's fearing that the man will do something unpredictable and weird.

While I believe it's correct, it feels childish and imprecise to simply add 有点儿:

他让我感到有点儿害怕
He makes me feel a little afraid

Basically, I'm looking for a more suitable word here.

Question: Is there a word that means 害怕 (afraid) but less strong?

I found some examples 不安 or 忧虑, but it's unclear to me if these are suitable in this context.

  • 他让我感到有点儿害怕 is idiomatic indeed. – dan Dec 2 at 4:26
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I suggest:

心里发毛

feel nervous · be panic-stricken

Example: 他让我感到心里发毛 (he creeps me out)

Basically 心里发毛 describes "you have a dread that you can't put your finger on"

  • dread : anticipate with great apprehension or fear.

  • can't put your finger on: not be able to say exactly what is wrong or different about a particular situation

  • Excellent! This seems to be exactly what I'm after. – Becky 李蓓 Dec 2 at 4:51
  • @Becky李蓓 发毛 is creepy. 害怕 is fear or afraid. It all depends what you want to express. – dan Dec 2 at 5:59
  • What I have in mind is what Tang Ho said: "you have a dread that you can't put your finger on". It's a combination of feelings: it includes fear, but it's not like e.g. the fear of being eaten by a lion (a concrete, tangible fear) and therefore you avoid lions. If someone does not respect personal boundaries, it raises a fear of what else might they do?. There might be no problem, but perhaps there will be a big problem. – Becky 李蓓 Dec 2 at 6:07
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Are there degrees of "fearfulness" which could be expressed in the Chinese language?

I would use 害怕 when the threat is quite definite or obvious and physical harm is imminent, as when one is being stalked.

And use 不安 or 忧虑 when it may be just an emotional perception and the threat, if any, has yet to manifest itself in some way.

So, the English equivalence to me, (in the context of your question), would be:-

害怕 = fear of imminent physical harm.

不安 or 忧虑 = "unsettling & apprehensive" respectively while the threat has yet to be defined or manifest itself.

However, all these three phrases are equally at home when no physical threats at all are involved; like fear of a job demotion. As always, context is the key.

So, to answer your question, (since I fail to come up with any other "less strong" alternatives to 害怕), I would use 害怕, 不安 or 忧虑 in the context I mentioned above; that is whether physical threat is obvious and imminent or not.

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I think it could make you uncomfortable if one invades your personal space. 不安 or 没有安全感 is fit then. Colloquially, we say: 这个人总往我身边凑, 让我觉得没有安全感. Or just 让我觉得有点害怕. 让我觉得不安 sounds formal.

发毛 is used when something is creepily/oddly horrible. A normal person usually won't make you 发毛. E.g. 这虫子太恶心了,看着让人心理发毛。

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悚惧,悚然是心里发毛的典雅说法。

虽然未详考证,但悚字常与竦易用。

竦,即耸,立。

——“举戈林悚(竦),挥锋电灭”曹丕《文选》。

又“毛骨悚然”。

说明悚作惧义,很可能来自于汗毛倒竖的状态。

不安、忧虑等词多指对可能发生的不确定事件的紧张而焦虑的状态,不能描述感官上给人的畏惧感。

害怕是当前描述此类心理的最泛化词语,其源自于口语,所以等级比较低。但是害怕一词本来也没有现在这样宽泛,作形容词/名词描述面临险境而产生的恐慌的心理,作动词指畏惧某事的发生。

按传统一些的观点

  • 他长得令人害怕。(x)
  • 他让我感到害怕。(x)

不过现在看来,这样的说法也不算错。私以为比较通俗的低级词汇逐渐承担了过多含义,是人们懒得找合适的词语表达意思的结果。

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