I'm confused about the following:

  • I have cancer

  • I have coronavirus

  • I have a cold

  • I have the flu

  • I have the plague

What is the rule here?

  • "I have coronavirus" isn't a great example, since "coronavirus" is a class of diseases instead of the specific 2019-nCoV disease that the speaker most likely intends.
    – jsheeran
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 13:12
  • 2
    Related/Duplicates: ell.stackexchange.com/q/82976/48224 and ell.stackexchange.com/q/234531/48224
    – Davo
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 13:24
  • 1
    People used to speak of a cancer when referring to a visible tumour. Cancer is the name of the disease whatever form it takes. Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 20:36
  • Additionally, "coronovirus" is a difficult example, because we also can say "I have the coronovirus. In this case, the definite article is referring to the specific coronovirus (out of the class of diseases) that is currently in the news/public attention. We can be specific, or we can be vague, depending on the semantic context.
    – wanderling
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 2:26

1 Answer 1


In English do not use the indefinite article or the definite article with the names of the diseases or medical conditions,

"My grandmother has arthritis". Not the arthritis or an arthritis.

"Hypertension is called the silent killer". Not A hypertension...or the hypertension.

You should say: I have cancer or I have lung cancer.

Exceptions: You use definite articles with the measles, the flu, the mumps. With symptoms of the diseases you can use definite articles, indefinite articles or plurals, such as: Sore throats are one of the most common health complaints

  • I think it's useful to note that the exceptions of diseases which do take an article are pretty much all illnesses which have been affecting common people historically for a very long time ("a cold", "the flu", "the mumps", etc). This is, I believe, because it used to be common to use articles with diseases a long time ago (i.e. the middle ages), but it is not the practice anymore in modern English, so the only ones which do are anachronisms from the past.
    – Foogod
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 21:21
  • And with colds, you can use an article or not, as you please. You can either catch cold or catch a cold.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 21:52

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