I guess both "get illness" and "get an illness" mean ‘catch an illness’.

according to Ngram, "get an illness" seems more widely used in writing, how about speaking?

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the weird thing is, "got cold" is more widely used than "got a cold".

I cannot even deduce a rule. should I put a "a/an" in speaking?

1 Answer 1


We would rarely say "get (an) illness" this is not idiomatic.

We could either say "get ill" (or "fall ill") or "get a disease", though "catch a disease" is perhaps more likely. If the type of disease is known then we would use that.

John got ill while touring India. He had to spend three nights in Mumbai General Hospital. (I'd prefer "fell ill" here)

You are very unlikely to get a disease from a toilet seat. There are more bacteria on the average chopping board than on a clean toilet seat.

Jane caught measles as a child, so she had made sure her children were vaccinated, as she didn't want them to fall ill.

  • Your answer is very helpful. Though, I still cannot get a clear sense when to use "a". For example, "caught measles" or "caught a measles", which one would be more idiomatic?
    – WXJ96163
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 0:44
  • It depends on the disease. "measles" is plural "caught measles" or "caught the measles", others are treated as non-count "caught chickenpox". On the other hand we say "a cold". And we usually say "the flu". So it depends, but there isn't a clear pattern.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 0:59

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