Chinese May Not Be As “Scary” As You Think!

Halloween is almost here, and you know what that means — it’s prank time! Whether you’re the one jumping out with a, “Boo!” or jumping back with an, “Aah!” things are gonna get scary. Good news is, after you read this article today, Chinese won’t be nearly as scary as you might think it is!

Words for a Terrifying Encounter

As in English, there are many different ways to describe places, people, or things that scare you. For example, if you want to say that something is scary in general, you can use the word “可怕(kěpà)”.

可怕 (kěpà) adj.: scary
Usually used to describe someone or something that makes people feel scared.

nǐ hǎo kěpà!
You are so scary!

wǒ jīntiān yù dàole yíjiàn kěpà de shìqíng.
I encountered a scary thing today.

But what if you want to talk about how you’re feeling? The word “害怕 (hàipà)” can be used not only to talk about how you might feel as you walk up to a knock on a door covered with cobwebs and plastic spiders, but also to express things you’re worried about in everyday life.

害怕 (hàipà): adj. scared
Usually used to describe the feeling of fear or to express a kind of worry.

wǒ hěn hàipà.
I’m scared.

wǒ hàipà tā líkāi wǒ.
I am afraid that he will leave me.

There are different levels of “scary” or “being scared”. What if there’s something that really makes you feel that next level of fear? It could be a movie, a news story, a dream, or something you’re imagining that might happen:

恐怖 (kǒngbù): adj .terrifying
Fearful of something that may be life threatening, violent, or bloody.

This word can be used to describe people who scare others, and it is often used in conjunction with other words, such as: 恐怖片(kǒngbù piān), 恐怖电影 (kǒngbù diànyǐng)

wǒ jīntiān kànle yíbù kǒngbù diànyǐng.
I watched a horror movie today.

zhège rén hěn kǒngbù.
This person is terrifying.

The class horror movie opens with one or two young people walking through a cold, dark, and pretty spooky forest. Viewers know that the teens are in danger, but the characters don’t know they’re in a horror movie! Even so, we suspect that they should be feeling a little uneasy because of the “阴森 (yīnsēn)” environment we see them in.

阴森 (yīnsēn): adj. gloomy/dark and spooky or terrifying
Referring to a place, atmosphere, complexion, weather, cave, etc.

nà shì yígè yīnsēn dì dìfāng.
That is a spooky place.

zhè piàn shùlín yīnsēn sēn de.
These woods are spooky.

Sentences structures for talking about fear

Let’s talk about grammar for a minute. A common way to express how you’re feeling in Chinese is to put an adjective in front of “____ sǐ wǒ le (死我了)”, literally meaning “I’m [adj.] to death.” It may look like the order of the words is wrong — shouldn’t the subject technically come first? However, this structure can be used for hunger (è sǐ wǒ le 饿死我了), exhaustion (lèi sǐ wǒ le 累死我了) or even, you guessed it, fear:

吓死我了 (xià sǐ wǒ le): I’m frightened to death

nǐ zěnme tūrán chūxiànle?xià sǐ wǒle!
Why did you suddenly show up? You scared me to death!

You can also use the following constructions to tell someone that you’re feeling scared. The first touches on “fear” in the traditional sense, the second on a deeper, almost more spiritual fear that reaches the speaker’s core.

怪吓人的(guài xiàrén de): (I think it’s) scary
The meaning and usage are similar to scaring me to death, but to a lesser degree.

nǐ wèishéme yào dàizhe zhège miànjù, guài xiàrén de!
Why are you wearing this mask, it’s so scary!

[person/thing/event] + 给我的心灵造成了巨大的伤害(nǐ gěi wǒ de xīnlíng zàochéngle jùdà de shānghài): [person/thing/event] has hurt me in my soul.

nǐ de bèipàn gěi wǒ de xīnlíng zàochéngle jùdà de shānghài.
Your betrayal really caused me great anguish.

Perhaps this spooky time of year is the perfect time to make your Chinese “scary” good! But all Halloween jokes aside, it’s very important to keep in mind that everyone has slightly different ways of expressing themselves, especially where emotions are concerned; it’s worth learning different ways to talk about the same thing.

The more flexible you are in your Chinese language learning, the more insight you’ll have into Chinese culture, people, and history — it’s almost frightening how much you’ll be exposed to!

Speaking of flexible language learning, let’s test your comprehension of today’s topic with a short quiz:
Please choose the best answer to fill in the blank.


1.wǒ______tā méiyǒu huí jiā.

2.nǐ búyòng_______。

3.wǒ xiǎngdàole yí jiàn hěn_______de shìqíng.

HSK 3 quiz

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“一起爬山吗(yīqǐ páshān ma)?” Why does this sentence make most Chinese people panic?
HSK 1 quiz

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