Sickness and Illness Vocabulary in British and American English

Watch this English lesson to learn vocabulary for health and sickness.
We’ll also show you how some words we use to talk about illness are different in British and American English.

You’ll learn vocabulary for:
– cold and flu symptoms like fever, sore throat and blocked or runny nose
– germs and bugs
– symptoms like feeling nauseous, having diarrhea and having constipation
– different kinds of aches in English
– different ways to say vomit in English
– the different meanings of sick and ill in British and American English
And on top of all this great stuff, you’ll also see a funny parody ad for cold medication. Enjoy!

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Funny parody ad

Do you have a fever, stuffiness, sore throat?
It’s cold season again. Have you protected yourself against this year’s germs?
Atchoo!
Are you ready to fight against coughs and sneezes?
Atchoo!
Nothing protects you from a cold like a big steel pan.
And when you’re all done your steel pan rinses clean.
Call or go online to get your big steel pan today.

Hi everyone I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American and today we have a vocabulary lesson.
We’re going to show you lots words and expressions we use to talk about common illnesses and sickness in English.
And there are some words that we say differently in British and American English.
We’ll tell you about them too. Where shall we begin?
Oh. Let’s start with the commercial.

Do you have a fever, stuffiness, sore throat?

I don’t want to get into another elevator with someone like you there.
Yeah, I had a bad cold, or the flu.
With a cold you feel ill for a few days. But the flu is more serious. You might need to spend a week in bed.
Flu is short for influenza. In British English we can say ‘He has the flu’ or ‘He has flu’. Both are correct and common. But notice we always say ‘a’ with ‘a cold’. He has a cold.
American English is a little different because we say ‘the’ with flu. ‘He has the flu’. But colds are the same. We use ‘a’. And we can use ‘a’ with other symptoms. He has a sore throat. He has a fever.
Your throat is a passage inside your neck. And if it’s sore it’s painful.
It can hurt to swallow if you have a sore throat.
A fever is an interesting word because we can use it in British English but I’d normally say ‘He has a temperature’.
And a temperature means a high temperature.
Yeah. When I first came to the US, the doctors would ask, ‘Do you have a fever?’ and I didn’t know what to say because I associate a fever with a very, very high temperature, like if you have malaria or something really serious.
A fever just means a body temperature of say 101° Fahrenheit or more.
He means 38°Celcius. So high, but not life threatening.
Another cold symptom is stuffiness – a stuffy nose.
It’s when your nose is blocked and you can’t breathe easily.
Congestion is the formal word, but normally we say ‘I’m stuffed up’.
And in British English we can also say ‘I’m bunged up’. It’s means my nose is blocked.
And what’s the opposite?
It’s having a runny nose.
Oh it’s the same in American English.
If it’s runny, mucus is coming out.
Mucus is the formal word. The informal word is snot.
Yeah. Snot is not a polite word
It’s not?!
But we say it.
Let’s see some more of the commercial.

It’s cold season again. Have you protected yourself against this year’s germs?

You were dangerous with all those coughs and sneezes.
Yeah, I was spreading germs there.
Germs are very small living things that can make you ill – like bacteria or viruses.
We should cover our mouth when we cough .

Jay, what are you doing wearing a face mask?
There are a lot of bugs going around. I don’t want to get sick.
And gloves too.
Yes, I don’t want to pick up any germs. Would you like some?
No thanks.

You were being very careful there.
Well, there were a lot of bugs going around.
A bug is an illness that people can catch very easily from one other.
And ‘going around’ means spreading from one person to another.
Bugs aren’t nice, but they’re not usually serious. We could say ‘I have a flu bug’, or ‘I have a stomach bug’.
If you have a stomach bug, you might feel nauseous.
You mean nauseous.
No. Nauseous.
Nauseous. OK. There’s a pronunciation difference here.
If you feel nauseous, you feel like you’re going to throw up.
To throw up is when your food comes back up. BLAH.
A more formal term is to vomit, but in everyday conversation we usually say something like throw up.
We have lots of other ways to say it.

To vomit.
To throw up.
To puke.
To barf.
To be sick.
To hurl.
To do the technicolour yawn.
To lose your lunch.

Sick and ill in British and American English

I want to test the British expression there. If I say ‘I was sick’, what does it mean to you?
Oh. It means you weren’t well. Perhaps you had a fever or a cold or something.
OK, in British English it could mean that but often it means I threw up.
That’s interesting. If I feel nauseous, I could say I’m going to be sick.
So like British English.
Well no, because I’d only say it just before it happens. Like ‘Pull the car over, I’m going to be sick’.
And then after you’re sick?
I’d say I threw up. I wouldn’t say I was sick.
And what do you call the stuff that comes out of your mouth?
Vomit.
I’d usually call it sick.
In American English we use sick to talk about feeling generally unwell, so not just nauseous.
We can do that too, but we use the word ill a little more than you. So often I’ll say someone is ill when Jay will say they’re sick. We mean the same thing.
For me, ill is a little more formal than sick. And if someone is ill, it’s probably more long term and serious.
OK, another symptom of a stomach bug is diarrhoea.
Are we going to talk about that?
Yeah, it’s a useful word to know. Diarrhoea is when you go to the toilet and …
You mean the bathroom
And your poo is watery.
We have a few other ways to describe that too.

I have diarrhea.
I have the runs.
I have the trots.
I have an upset stomach.
My stomach is acting up.

OK. What’s the opposite of diarrhoea? It’s constipation. Constipation is when you can’t do a poo or it’s very hard.
Enough! Can we go back to the commercial now.
OK.
Are you ready to fight against coughs and sneezes?
Nothing protects you from a cold like a big steel pan.
How’s your head?
Terrible! I’ve got a headache now.
Headache. An ache is similar to a pain.
Parts of our body can ache.
So ache can be a noun and a verb in English. We have five main aches and Jay will now demonstrate them for you.
Really?
Yes.

Aches in English

I have a headache. I have backache. I have earache. I have stomach ache. I have toothache.

Good job.
Thanks.
Notice that we have to say ‘a’ when we’re talking about a headache. With earache, toothache and stomachache and backache it’s optional.
And there’s also another word you’ll hear for stomach ache: tummy ache. Tummy is another word for stomach and we often use it when we talk to children.
We might also say I have indigestion. Indigestion can give us stomach ache or tummy ache.
Great. Are we finished?
Nearly. But there’s one more thing that’s useful to know.
What’s that?
If someone sneezes, what do we say?
Oh yes!
It’s polite to say ‘bless you’.
It’s not a religious expression. It’s just something we say to acknowledge that someone sneezed. Atchoo!
Bless you!
Thanks.

Knock knock.
Who’s there.
Atch.
Atch who?
Bless you!
Argh!

And that’s it! Now you know how to describe lots of common illnesses in English.
If you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
And don’t forget to subscribe to our channel.
Stay healthy everyone! See you all next week. Bye-bye.
Bye.

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