There are different expressions for pain in the body: "My head hurts", "I've got a splitting headache", "My head aches", "I've got a sore throat"...

In the dictionaries I could not find any rule when to use which (except of the slight meaning specialization for the word "ache" being violated by the exception "headache").

Is there any rule (of thumb) when to use which expression? Are all these expressions interchangeable? "I've got a sore head"?

  • In the first sentence of your question, you say sore throat. I believe that was unintentional and you had mean to say sore head. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 12:02
  • @JasonBassford Thx for the comment. But it was intentional. I know that sore throat and head aches/hurts are idiomatic expressions but I don't know if head aches/hurts could be exchanged by sore head. Therefore the question at the end. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 15:26

1 Answer 1


Different forms of discomfort.

Hurt is the usual sharp pain as from injury.

Ache is a dull pain, usually internal. With migraine, your head aches, but if you bump your head on a door frame, it hurts.

Soreness is either an ache that appears 'when moving' - e.g. muscle ache after intense exercise, or a several days old bruise or an itchy form, like 'sore throat' - not yet hurting but with 'scratching' feeling.

There's throbbing pain, e.g. during intense migraine, where the intensity changes with your heartbeat, each pulse of blood sending extra pain wave.

There are pangs (of pain) - intense waves. Birth pain is definitely this form.

There's burning - not just from getting burned; strong reflux causes burning, so does very spicy food.

Something smarts when the pain is pretty strong but short-timed. A fresh minor bruise, a paper cut on your finger, kicking a table leg with your toe, that all smarts.

There's chafing - pain from repeated rubbing; result of badly fit shoes, some kind of belt or strap rubbing against your skin, possibly causing inflammation. It makes the place tender or sore.

And the very extreme, agony - a completely crippling, excruciating, overwhelmingly intense pain.

If you remember any more, just add and I'll try to add.

  • Great, thx! So, there is usually no such thing like "a sore head"? - "Bellyache" fits perfectly to your explanation. But what is about "tummy sore"? Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 20:58
  • @Min-SooPipefeet: skin irritation from e.g. excess sweat or allergy may cause soreness, so you could get a sore head in such cases, if it specifically affects the skin on your head... although it would be quite unusual. So itching from mosquito bites it got sore from scratching? 'Tummy sore' is a 'baby speak', the sort of speech some people use when talking with little children, an abuse of diminutives or other 'super-gentle' words. Normally it's stomach ache.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 21:08
  • (note also 'sore' has some figurative meanings, like 'holding a grudge' (being sore about something) or 'being pathetic' (sore loser)).
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 21:10

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