Once in a while I hear someone use the phrase I am hurting. It appears to mean I am hurt, not I am hurting you. For example, consider the text on this drawing:

emo cat, caption says: *I'm hurting on the inside*

When and why is it correct to say I'm hurting in the meaning of I'm hurt? Is there any difference in meaning?

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    The use of the present participle hurting helps make stress on the fact that the cat is hurting right now; it is in the process of feeling hurt at the moment. Jan 30, 2015 at 20:33
  • Aha. Grammatically, that makes sense. Semantically, I'm not quite sure what the difference is between I'm hurt and I'm hurting. When the knife is entering my body I'm hurting and when it's gone but I still feel pain I'm hurt?
    – gerrit
    Jan 30, 2015 at 20:35
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    That's why I left a comment, not an answer. (0: Let native speakers point out the possible differnces. (0: Jan 30, 2015 at 20:36
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    I am not hurt, but the 'kitty' in the picture hurts
    – kitty
    Jan 31, 2015 at 17:03

3 Answers 3


The main difference in usage is between physical pain and emotional pain. "I am in pain" suggests there is ongoing pain, usually physical. "I am hurting" suggests there is ongoing pain, usually emotional.

This is an example of sense 2b the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary:

2 a [+ object] : to make (someone) sad or upset : to cause (someone) to suffer emotionally

  • Their lack of interest in her work hurt her deeply.
  • You're only hurting yourself by holding a grudge against them.
  • It hurt me to see her go.

b [no object] : to feel emotional pain or distress

  • My sister has really been hurting [=has been very upset and unhappy] since her boyfriend left her.

And as for whether it's "slangy", here's a quote from a press conference Barack Obama gave in Nov 2014:

... there are still a lot of folks out there who are anxious and are hurting and are having trouble making ends meet, or are worried about their children’s future. [source]

There are hundreds more examples on www.americanrhetoric.com of speeches and interviews with similar examples of many different people using that word the same way.


"Hurt" has two separate-but-related meanings that are relevant here:

  1. To harm or injure.

For this meaning, "I am hurt" is appropriate. It means "Someone or something has injured me."

In this construction, "hurt" is a one-time action.

  1. To experience the ongoing effects of injury, especially pain.

For this meaning, "I am hurting" is appropriate. It means "I am in pain."

In this construction, "hurting" is an ongoing state.

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    To elaborate: Imagine you break my arm. I get proper medical treatment, get my arm set in a cast, and get really good medication so that the pain goes away. The statement "I'm hurt" is still true - the injury is still there; it hasn't healed yet. But the statement "I am hurting" is not - I'm not experiencing pain. Jan 30, 2015 at 21:23

I've always been under the impression that "I'm hurting on the inside" is slangish, and not exactly grammatically correct. The problem is that we don't use present participle with passive verbs like that. For example, we don't say, "I am stunning" to mean you are being stunned, instead you say, "I'm stunned". "I am stunning" means something completely different: that you're stunning other people (usually with your good looks.)

There are many other similar phrases that are commonly used, and grammatically correct, that I think "I'm hurting on the inside" is trying to copy. For example: "I'm laughing on the inside," and "I'm crying on the inside."

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    "On the inside" is a colloquial way of referring to one's mental state, and "hurting" is a colloquial way of referring to anguish, but they're not really slang.
    – TimR
    Jan 30, 2015 at 22:44

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