Ache vs Pain

Ache vs Pain

By Mrs. Sybille, Canada - 30th June-2007

Headache, stomachache, body ache, earache and toothaches are some of the aches we have all experienced some time or the other. As the names suggest, the term ache is normally associated with some part of one's body. It is usually used to refer to any discomfort that is localized, which is not temporary, but long lasting. Most dictionaries define an ache as continuous, dull pain. In other words, an ache is not as acute as pain. The latter tends to be much more severe than ache. Pain is a general term. It can refer to discomforts of short or long duration.

Both words have a figurative meaning as well. They are often used to refer to mental or spiritual suffering. For example, one can talk about the pain of separation and the ache of loneliness. When your girlfriend or boyfriend ditches you, you may complain of heartache. Your friends will feel sorry for you and will try to cheer you up. They will not take your ache seriously. If, on the other hand, you complain of having chest pain, the same friends will take you very seriously and rush you to the hospital. My children tell me that I am a pain in their neck and my neighbors think I am a headache. Who do you think dislikes me more?


Both of these words are most commonly used as nouns. They refer to unpleasant sensations that you feel in your body, although they are slightly different feelings. A painis usually used to refer to a kind of sharp discomfort that is difficult to ignore. For example:

Yesterday I suddenly felt a lot of pain in my stomach. I was taken to hospital where they discovered I had appendicitis.

Acheis similar to pain, but it usually is used to refer to a duller kind of discomfort that may continue for longer than a painmight. Common examples are:

headache, stomach ache, backacheand heartache

Note that heartache is used to refer to a kind of emotional pain, for example if you are in love with someone and they are not treating you well you can say:

He is causing me a lot of heartache.

Less commonly, both painand achecan be used as verbs. Painin this form means to cause someone unhappiness. Note that you cannot use pain in the progressive or continuous form in standard UK or US English.

It pains me to think of you being so unhappy with your life – meaning it makes me feel unhappy that you are so sad.

You can also use acheas a verb. Unlike painachecan be used in the progressive form. For example:

My back is really aching.
I wish my leg would stop hurting, it really aches.

Ache -- a continuous suffering or a dull pain.
Pain -- a sharp, sporadic, or sudden suffering or stabbing.
Sore -- a pain to the touch, swallow, or movement and usually mild.