I was looking for some Evangelion merch on red bubble when I stumbled upon a cup on which was written the following japanese phrase:


With the english translation below it, being "What are you afraid of?" Which isn't exactly how my non-expert self would translate it. In fact, I would translate it very roughly like "Is anything scary?", because to me the structure of the phrase looks like + subject marker が + adjective 怖い + doubt particle の and question transformer か. "What are you afraid of?" for me would be something like "怖いって何ですか" or something like that, but I might be missing some kind of rule/having some kind of misconception, since I'm a relative beginner.

  • 1
    Why do you think it would mean 'Is anything scary?' 何 means 'what', and 何が isn't a special construction like 何も, 何か, 何でも, 何もかも.
    – Angelos
    Apr 22, 2021 at 18:06
  • Yeah, I think I confused 何's meaning with 何か's, which means I didn't understand the former's usage at all. Thank you for making me realize it!
    – Tennouji
    Apr 22, 2021 at 21:41

2 Answers 2


At the word level, you have identified everything correctly. However, 怖い is an adjective that means either "scared" or "scary" depending on the context, and if someone sees this sentence without any context, they usually take this 怖い as "scared" (or "afraid"). In other words, you usually imagine someone who is being afraid by seeing this sentence in isolation. Please read my previous answer here: Different meanings of こわい

Depending on the context, the same sentence could mean "What (part) is scary (about this thing)?", which could be rephrased as "Is anything scary (about this thing)?" or "Nothing is scary (about this thing)!" Simply, an objective sentence like this is less likely to appear on an Evangelion merch.

On the other hand, 怖いって何ですか sounds like "Fear? What is it?", "What is the definition of being scary/scared?" or something like this. It's about the abstract concept of 怖い itself.


To add onto naruto's answer, [怖い]{こわい} in your sample sentence could be parsed as "What is scary?" in a generalized sense, and also contextually as "What is scary to you?" That latter interpretation is functionally equivalent in some ways to "What are you afraid of?", hence the different possible translations into English.

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