What's the difference?

hurt/ache/pain

We've all had these, but as non-natives it's often difficult to not only decide which word is best, but also ​start moaning about the English language because it has so many words to be the same thing. Well, the eskimos have fifty words for snow.

First, hurt – to begin with, it’s a verb – I hurt myself. To be hurt is when, for example, you fall and have an accident by hitting your knee hard on the ground. We often think of this as a temporary situation, something from which you will hopefully get better from.

However, pain (uncountable noun) is something that, depending on the situation, is more of a continuing sensation, a continuing feeling you get after you have hurt yourself. For example: Ow! I’ve hurt myself on the knee – give me something to make the pain go away!

MICK: You’re holding your arm. Does it hurt?

BELINDA: A little, but I should be alright.

MICK: Okay, but if the pain continues, you should see a doctor!

Now an ache is a continuous pain, but not to the point that it will make you feel very uncomfortable. It is a pain that you experience after, for example, when you’ve been exercising too much: Oh, I’ve got so many aching muscles!

Compare:

If you’ve been eating too much: I’ve got stomach ache!

If you've got some kind of medical problem: I've got stomach pain!

Or you have a bad tooth that is giving you toothache.

But if the toothache is getting very bad, then you should see a dentist as you are now experiencing a lot of pain.

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