You’re about to learn 63 phrases to talk about illness and sickness in English. Also check out 60 Negative Emotion Adjectives to Describe Negative Feelings.
Here’s a strange thing about me (not the only strange thing, I can promise you that):
Sometimes I really enjoy getting ill.
I mean, you can take time off work without feeling bad.
And what other situation allows you to just sit on the sofa drinking tea and watching YouTube during the day?
Being ill is the only time that it’s really OK to do those things.
I guess it’s also because I work all the time and sometimes, it’s just nice to take a break.
Whether we enjoy it or not, we all get ill from time to time.
So it’s important to be able to talk about it, right?
So today, let’s look at all the different ways we can:
- Talk about getting ill
- Talk about being ill
- Talk about how we try to stop being ill
- Talk about stopping being ill
Talking about getting ill
You know that feeling, right?
That feeling that not everything is quite right with your body.
When you feel a little bad … a little different from normal.
You can’t quite identify it, but you know what it means. It means you’re going to get ill.
Well, there are different ways of describing that feeling — that general, unidentifiable feeling you get before you’re properly ill.
I feel a bit rough.
In the beginning, it starts very subtly. You hardly notice it.
That’s when you can use this phrase.
Rough is an informal way of saying unpleasant.
I’m not feeling great.
This phrase is often used as an understatement — it’s a way of saying something negative without really saying something negative.
It’s a nice way not to alarm people or make people say annoying things like, “Oh no! You poor thing! Shall we call the doctor?”
I feel rubbish.
Yep. Something’s definitely wrong.
But you still don’t know what it is.
You just feel … bad.
Of course, you can use any word that means bad here, like terrible or awful or dreadful or — to sound a little posh — ghastly.
Feeling under the weather
This is a classic phrase and, according to the super-useful Google Ngram Viewer, has become more popular recently.
Again, this is commonly used as an understatement — especially if you hear this from a British person. (Brits are the world leaders in understatements.)
If you hear a Brit say, “I’m a bit under the weather,” then what they mean is, “I’m about to die. Please take me to the hospital now. Or the cemetery.”
I’m not feeling 100%.
The last understatement of this list.
You’re not feeling 100%? And you’re British?
This probably means “I’m feeling 20%. Please give me some medicine.”
I think I’ve caught a bug.
When you’re finally sure that you’re not just feeling bad, but you’re definitely getting properly ill, then you can say that you’ve caught a bug or caught the bug.
A bug is basically another word for virus.
We often talk about a bug going ’round.
So you can say:
“I really don’t feel 100%. I think I’ve caught the bug that’s been going ’round.”
I think I’m coming down with something.
Another phrase that signals that you’re not just feeling bad — you are definitely ill!
“To come down with something” basically means that you’re ill. You’ve caught something — a virus, the flu, a bug.
Talking about being ill
OK. Then it actually happens.
You get ill!
But what kind of illness have you got?
What are your symptoms?
The classic ones
OK. First of all, let’s look at the ones you probably already learned at school.
Here’s a quick tip.
Most of the time, when we’re talking in simple terms about being ill, we use the phrase “I’ve got a …”
So you can say, “I’ve got a …”
It means you’re really hot. And not in a sexy kind of way. Americans also say “I’ve got a fever” in this situation, too.
Your throat hurts.
You guessed it! Your head hurts. If it’s a small headache, you can say that you’ve got a bit of a headache. If it’s really bad, then say that you’ve got a splitting headache.
A runny nose
Eugh … Snot everywhere! Running out of your nose and getting everywhere. You have to blow your nose every two minutes, but it just keeps on coming! Where does it all come from? Yeah, sorry for that image. This is when you get a tissue and blow your nose.
Maybe it’s time to give up smoking.
This basically describes having one or all (or a few) of these symptoms. A cold is just a bug or a virus. And you’ve got it! By the way, be careful here. Don’t say “I’ve got cold” — it has a different meaning. Remember to say “a cold.”
My … is killing me!
This is just another way of saying, “It really hurts!”
Perhaps your back is killing you because you did your squats wrong at the gym.
Or perhaps you want to say, “My arm is killing me!” because that stupid kangaroo decided to start punching you when you were feeding it.
Don’t feed the kangaroos.
All clogged up / all bunged up
You know that feeling?
When you can’t breathe through your nose anymore.
It’s completely blocked, and it’s making your head feel like it’s going to explode.
Relief! via GIPHY
Feel faint / light-headed / dizzy
This is probably my least favourite symptom here.
Maybe you haven’t eaten enough.
Or maybe you stood up too quickly.
Or maybe you just saw a gang of spiders eat a live anaconda.
This is when you feel that you’re going to lose consciousness or faint or pass out.
Usually you don’t. But that feeling is still awful, isn’t it?
This is what it sounds like.
That feeling when you’re sweating (your skin becomes wet), but you feel cold at the same time.
You can have cold sweats.
Or something can give you cold sweats.
And sometimes we use the phrase “she woke up in the middle of the night with cold sweats.”
Fun stuff, eh?
Swelling / swollen things
Have you ever had an allergic reaction to something?
Perhaps a bee stung you?
What happened next?
Did the area where the bee stung start growing?
Did it create a large bump that looked like someone put a golf ball under your skin?
That’s called swelling.
We sometimes use the noun:
“OK, Mr. Dudd. I need to ask you if there’s been any swelling in your upper thigh area.”
Or the verb:
“Whenever spring arrives, his face swells up like a balloon. He’s sooooo allergic!”
Or even the adjective:
“After that kangaroo punched him repeatedly, he had a very swollen face.”
Don’t feed the kangaroos.
Throwing up / vomiting / be sick
You’ve just eaten 4 kg of baklava with ice cream!
Now what happens?
It all comes back up, of course.
From your stomach and out of your mouth.
The standard verb for this is “to vomit.”
But we often use the phrase “throw up,” too.
Another one is “be sick.”
Yep — I know. This is really confusing because being sick is the general topic of this post, not just the food-from-the-stomach-through-the-mouth thing.
This is when context is everything:
“Oh. She’s in the bathroom. She said she was going to be sick.”
Can’t keep anything down
Sometimes, when you’re ill, you just can’t eat or drink anything.
Well, you can, but then you just throw it all up again.
When someone’s in this situation, we say that they can’t keep anything down.
Makes sense, right?
Scratchy or itchy throat
When your throat is really sensitive, and every time you breathe in, it makes you want to cough.
Stomach bug / stomach flu
When you get a cold, it means you’ve caught a bug.
But you can also have a stomach bug, when you get all sorts of pains in the stomach, you feel like you want to throw up all the time, you might have diarrhea (see below), and you might also have a temperature.
Not the best thing to have while camping in the desert, I can promise you that.
Have diarrhea / the runs
OK. How to describe this?
Well, when we need the toilet, we either pass liquids (also known as a “number one”), or we pass solids (known as a “number two”).
However, sometimes passing solids is more like passing liquids.
This can happen when you’ve got a stomach bug or when you’ve had too much curry.
I’m talking about wet poo!
Now, let’s move on …
The opposite of diarrhea.
When your solids are so solid that you just sit on the toilet for hours, days, even weeks, just trying to get something out.
This is fun, isn’t it?
Let’s get out of the toilet area now.
Your skin has been pierced.
Then blood comes out.
That’s a cut.
You can use it as a noun:
“He was completely covered in cuts.”
Or a verb:
“Careful! You’ll cut your fingers. Let me do it!”
A while back, I wrote a post on how to remember new vocabulary.
In it, I talked about this word and how you can remember it by thinking of Bruce Willis.
Bruce – bruise … Sounds the same, right?
But what is a bruise?
Well, if a kangaroo punches you on the arm too many times, that part of your arm will change colour and go purple, right?
That’s a bruise.
Don’t feed the kangaroos.
Gashes are nasty.
They’re like cuts.
But they’re deeper and longer.
More serious and more likely to make you feel faint.
Moving on now.
Remember “sore throat”?
Well, a sore is a part of your body that’s hurting — usually because it’s not protected.
Sores are usually places where the skin is broken or infected, causing pain.
Pulled a muscle
Do you go to the gym?
Then be careful out there — you don’t want to pull a muscle.
It can happen when you stretch a muscle too much or even cause it to tear a bit.
But don’t worry — it usually repairs itself.
Isn’t the body amazing?
If your illness is really bad, you can’t leave your bed.
That’s when you’re bedridden.
Down with the flu
This is another way of saying, “He’s got the flu.”
“Oh — she’s been down with the flu for a few days.”
You’re ill, and you can’t go to work?
OK. Then you’re off sick.
Pull a sickie
You’re pretending to be ill so you can’t go to work, but actually you just want to hang out with your cousin who’s in town for the day and who you never get to spend time with so you call work and tell them you’re sick?
Then you’ve just pulled a sickie.
Don’t get caught!
Trying to stop being ill
OK. So you’re ill.
But now what?
Do you just sit around waiting for it to end?
No way! This is when you fight it!
And how do you fight it?
Well, there are a few approaches.
Ways to stop being ill
OK. We know what this is, right? This is something that is going to cure your illness. Something with scientific research behind it. No water memory nonsense here, please.
The word remedy actually means “solution.” So if something has cured your illness, then it’s a remedy — whether it was the lemon tea or all the chemical drugs.
A cure is basically the same as a remedy. The main difference is that cure usually refers to the result, and remedy focuses on what you did to get better.
Got an illness? Then use treatment A for illness A and treatment B for illness B. See what I mean? A treatment is a specific medicine or series of medicines you use to try and cure someone with a specific illness.
Things you can take or have to stop being ill
OK. So when it comes to medicines, we usually use the verb take or have.
Those small, usually white, things you swallow with water. Sometimes they get stuck in your throat. I hate that.
Sugary liquid. The most common, I suppose, is cough syrup.
Also, whatever it is, if you’re putting it in your mouth in order to stop yourself being ill, then it’s medicine.
Have/Get a jab / a vaccination / an injection
When I was 33, I had to spend three days in a Russian hospital.
During that time, I think I had between three and four thousand jabs. (I might be exaggerating a bit.)
There were jabs for vitamins, jabs for energy and jabs for the pain of all the other jabs.
I was, for those three long days, a human pin cushion.
Drink loads of water / Take plenty of fluids
It’s amazing how much just drinking water can do.
Or anything that hydrates you.
Sometimes when you tell someone you’re ill, you get this advice: Make sure to take plenty of fluids.
And I do.
Get some fresh air and exercise
Sometimes, if you can pull yourself out of bed and away from home, it’s a good idea to just go for a short, easy walk.
Fresh air, exercise and being in “the real world” can really help you recover.
Shake it off
Don’t you hate it when you get ill at the wrong time?
When there’s too much to do!
That’s when I just completely deny my illness anything.
I just continue with my day working, going for a cycle and doing the shopping in the hope that I can just shake it off.
No medicine, no rest — just a stubborn ability to deny what’s happening to my body.
And you know what? Sometimes it works!
Stopping being ill
Hooray! You’re no longer ill!
So now you can tell people.
And they will rejoice with you!
I’ve got over it.
A simple phrasal verb to describe that’s it’s over!
And you successfully achieved that.
This is a little bit more technical and can be used in both formal and informal situations.
You can also use it like an adjective, sometimes with full or fully.
“By this time tomorrow, I expect to be fully recovered.”
Or, if you prefer to use a noun, you can use the word recovery — usually with the verbs expect or make.
“I can’t believe it — last week he was at death’s door, and now he’s made a full recovery!”
On the mend
OK. So sometimes you’re not fully recovered.
But you’re getting better, and the worst is over.
Then you’re on the mend.
A clean bill of health
Every now and again, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor’s right?
Not for anything in particular — just a checkup.
Then, hopefully, after the doc has checked everything, she’ll give you a clean bill of health, which means that there’s nothing wrong with you.
Gone into remission
With more serious diseases, like cancer, we can use the phrase “go into remission” when the disease has become less severe — less serious.
Back on his feet
Another way to say “fully recovered.”
OK — great work!
You managed to survive all the cuts, bruises, dizziness and other, messier things. Well done!
So now, let’s talk about it!
Whenever I’m ill, I take plenty of fluids and drink loads and loads of lemon, ginger and honey tea.
What do you do when you come down with something?
Tell me in the comments, and we can all share our remedies!
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