A document said that someone “was scared of people from outside” her immediate family. Unexceptional English, I would have thought, but Microsoft Word’s style checker noted “More concise language would be clearer for your reader” and suggested
To me, Someone feared people from outside her immediate family isn’t usual, natural English. It’s obviously grammatical and sensical but feared is too formal and strong for this context (unless the someone in question was bordering on phobic. Surprisingly, Google Ngrams shows that feared people is considerably more common than was scared of people and were scared of people combined. I can’t think of any context where feared people would be my usual, natural choice. I don’t have access to any linguistic corpora, so have to rely on a general Google search, which show occasional uses, mostly in the irrelevant forms “the (top/number) most feared people (in some context)”, “this is the moment we’ve feared, people” and “he feared [that] people would laugh at him”. There is one quotation from the Quran (“And you feared people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him”) but that by itself wouldn’t explain the ngrams results, especially because the use of feared people dates back to around 1800. I’m just going to have to admit defeat on this one. My editing job doesn’t involve changing other people’s words anyway, so I didn’t have to decide (and would have rejected the suggestion anyway).
(Comparing feared people and was/were scared of people is complicated by the fact that they are different grammatically. I am also considering feared people as adj + N but that doesn’t get me any further.)
My mind wandered sideways to the words which come after feared and was/were afraid/scared/frightened of. Ngrams’ results for those show, in order:
afraid of anything, afraid of death, afraid of something, feared God, afraid of nothing, scared of anything, scared of something, afraid of everything, afraid of ghosts, scared of heights, afraid of God, feared death, feared something, feared John, feared object, scared of death, feared man, frightened of life, scared of people, frightened of women, frightened of ghosts, frightened of something, frightened of nothing, afraid of work, scared of nothing, scared of everything, scared of snakes, scared of ghosts, frightened of everything, afraid of men, scared of dogs, frightened of change, feared none, frightened of anything, frightened of people, frightened of death, feared Mr, afraid of war, feared anything.
Note that scared of people and frightened of people appear on that list, but feared people doesn’t, calling into question the first search results (and Microsoft’s advice). Obviously, that list would take some analysis to make any sense of. Leaving aside everything, anything, something and nothing, we have death, God, ghosts, heights, John (Mark 6:20 “Herod feared John”), life, women, snakes, men (more people are (or write about being) frightened of women than afraid of men), change, Mr (mostly “feared [that] Mr X would do something”) and war.
So, more questions than answers in this post, sorry.