Shengliver’s Note: This is a question from sxdtcb.


Hi, Shengliver.


How are you recently? These days I met some problems when I was learning. I couldn’t find the answer, so I need your help.


My question is about "pain". Usually when our body does not feel normal, we say headache, stomach-ache, or a sore throat. But what should we say when there is a pain in legs, arms, ears, fingers and so on?


I am looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you.




Dear sxdtcb,


Thanks for writing. Your questions show you are a good learner of English. You are learning how to express yourself. Talking in good English is one of the main purposes of learning the language.


One way of talking about pain is what you have already mentioned in the question. We use words like headache, stomach-ache, and backache. The name of a body part comes in front of the word ache, which means a continuous but not very sharp pain. Look at the following examples.


I always get a headache when I’ve been using the computer.

I’m not surprised you have stomachache – you eat too fast.

I had a backache after fifteen minutes of shovelling snow.


We can find out some rules from the above examples. We say “get a headache”, "have stomachache” and “have a backache”. So we use the verb GET or HAVE with these ache words. Did you notice that nouns like “headache” are both countable and uncountable? In other words, we can say “have a headache” or “have headache”. Either is good.


Let’s come to the expression “a sore throat”, which you mentioned. The word “sore” occurs very often with “throat”. Actually “a sore throat” is what we call a collocation. A collocation is two or more than two words occurring together like partners. More collocations are look after, a great deal of, and look forward to. A good learner of English learns such set phrases as “a sore throat” very well. The more collocations we use, the more idiomatic our language will sound.


What does sore mean? If a part of your body is sore, it is painful when you touch it and usually the part is red. So your eyes may be sore if you have stayed up. When you have a cold or the flu, you may end up with a sore throat.


We can use a verb “hurt” to talk about pain in most parts of the body. Look at the following examples, please.


My back hurts.

Where does it hurt?

It hurts when I try to move my leg.

My shoulder hurts like hell.


The examples show that when we use the pattern, we use a body part as the subject of the sentence and follow it with the verb HURT.


The verb “ache” can substitute for “hurt” in all those examples with little change of meaning.


Of course we can use “pain” to talk about the feeling. If you have a pain in your leg, it hurts. Read the examples below:


I had a nasty pain in my leg.

She felt a sharp pain in her stomach.


Well, the above words and expressions are usually good enough to talk about our everyday painful experiences. When you have learned more, you will find some words and expressions to talk about a very specific painful feeling. Suppose a bee came down on your finger and you were hurt by it, what should you say?


He was stung by a bee. (sting – stung – stung)


All the example sentences in this letter are quoted from a dictionary titled the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE). Using a good dictionary helps a lot with learning. I hope you have your own dictionary. When you have a question, consult it. And LDOCE is one of the best learner’s dictionary brands in the world. Anyway, I am not a salesman.


LDOCE is available in most bookshops around the country. An investment in a paper dictionary will reward you immensely. Better still, a lot of digital or online dictionaries are also there on the web. If you could get one and set it up on your computer, you would find it faster and more convenient to have your query answered. On a digital dictionary, you could hear a word spoken by a native speaker and thus you could model yourself on him.


Once again, thanks for writing. If you have any more questions to ask, send them to


Good learning and good luck.





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