When a person is ill because of cold, then we can say about him that

"He caught cold"

(in 1st p.: "I caught cold" or in modal "you can catch cold if you will not dress properly")


"He got cold"?

(in 1st p.: "I got cold" or in modal "you can get cold if you will not dress properly")

Normally I've used "got cold" but someone wrote me that she caught cold (she's not Native English speaker) and that's what brought me to ask my question here.

In addition, I would love to know about the usage of these phrases or corresponding phrases in in the main English speaking countries such as: US, Britain, Canada and Australia (AmE, BrE, CaE, AuE).

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    Hi Industrious - I think this is a well-written question, but we have an older version of it that already has some answers. If you don't find them helpful, let's either put a bounty on it to get some more attention brought to it (let me know if you would like that, I have some reputation to spare for it), or work on editing your question to make it different.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 18:14
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    I think that is why it is important to link questions that have the same answer together. The way that you've written the question is easy to understand, so if someone finds this question, they will know that the answers on the linked question should help explain it. I will put a bounty on the other question to see if we can get some more comprehensive answers.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 18:27
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    @ColleenV♦: Me and my big mouth! (or should I say fat fingers?). I suppose that means the onus is now on me to go over that distinction in an actual answer! :( Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 18:40
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    NB "wear" is transitive (you wear clothes, you wear shoes, etc, but you don't just "*wear"), so you can't say "*...if you don't wear properly" - you want "if you don't dress properly".
    – psmears
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 21:26
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    You have suitable answers, but on local dialects, "caught cold" is relatively rare in AuE; "caught a cold" and "has/have a cold" are both fairly common.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 0:21

3 Answers 3


To "get cold" means to have your body temperature (or at least your perception of it) become enough lower that you feel somewhat uncomfortable. "Get/become cold" implies a lower temperature than "get/become chilly".

To "get a cold" means to become sick with a certain type of usually-minor illness, characterised by some or all of: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, headache, sore throat, etc. You can substitute either "catch cold" OR "catch a cold", the "catch" implying that it was accidental, whereas "get a cold" is just the raw information.

And the "if" part should be "...if you do not dress properly". Dress in this case is a reflexive idiom meaning "clothe yourself", so you can substitute "...if you do not clothe yourself properly/suitably/appropriately" or "...if you do not wear the proper/suitable/appropriate clothing".

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    This does a good job addressing all the possible article/non-article permutations, and also the awkward "wear properly". I might add that the last bit could also be "if you will not wear your coat properly" (or whatever item of clothing isn't fastened or fully-on or what-have-you).
    – 1006a
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 20:54

As it happens, I watched the (British) movie It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) last night, where I was struck by the fact that the warning You'll catch cold! occurred at least three times.

At the time, I never particularly noticed the fact that there's no article in that particular version (to me that's syntactically totally normal, but I think I know that Getting cold or wet won’t give you a cold).

As this chart shows...

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...we don't usually include the article in that particular "set phrase", but if we look at other versions...

enter image description here

...it's different. I can't see much of a US/UK usage split here, but there might be some suggestion that AmE has moved further towards standardising on catch/caught a cold in all contexts.

There's also this related earlier ELL question, but it's primarily concerned with a (spurious) semantic distinction between catch a cold and get a cold (where the latter is distinct from get cold, which means become cold by losing body heat).

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    Brilliant as usual, FF. As a native speaker of American English, I don't recall ever hearing these phrases without the article. To my ear, "He got cold" simply means the subject became chilled, while "He got a cold" means the subject contracted the common-cold virus. Also, where is the link to the question/answer that ColleenV cited? Thank you. Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 19:08
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    As an AmE Speaker in the Midwest USA, If i heard "caught cold" (which I never have), I would think its an accent and they forgot the article A. There are only 2 kinds of Cold I know of, To be cold (feeling), and to have a Cold(virus). "Caught a Cold" and "Got a Cold" imply having a Cold (the virus) while "Got cold" implies just being cold. "Caught cold" makes no sense to me. Without the A, it implies the feeling and not the virus, but you cant catch a feeling.
    – Ryan
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 20:33
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    Also native AmE speaker here, and I never noticed until now but I have heard the usage "to catch cold" but never (to my notice) "caught cold". "Got cold" is a common phrase that has nothing to do with a virus, just temperature. Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 21:03
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    @MarkHubbard Just FYI, on the full site you can see suggested duplicates (past or present) and any other ELL questions that have been linked in the comments in the right sidebar under "LInked". The questions under "Related" are automated guesses.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 22:05
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    I'm an American and was honestly confused by the question at first. I thought they were asking about getting sick due to being cold (as in chilly) rather than catching a cold (as in a virus). It could depend on the region, though.
    – Kat
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 3:17

There are some good answers already describing the finer points of usage regarding "catch cold", "catch a cold", and "get cold".

But there is a lurking misunderstanding in the question:

When someone is ill because of cold,

A native speaker would infer that exposure to low temperatures were part of some set of circumstances that caused the person ("someone") to become ill. The nature of the illness itself is not specified; the illness could be what we call "a cold" (caused by a virus), it could be pneumonia (caused by a virus or bacterium and usually much more serious than a cold), or it could be one of several other illnesses.

Note that mere exposure to a virus, without exposure to cold temperatures, can often cause someone to catch a cold.

I hope I am not belaboring the point too much, but I wanted it to be clear that neither of your two proposed phrases ("caught cold" or "got cold") truly means "became ill because of cold." The phrase "caught cold" is neither a general way to describe an illness caused by cold nor does it imply that cold temperatures caused the illness, while the phrase "got cold" does not indicate an illness at all.


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