Language Tips

Get expert tips on language, grammar, style and vocabulary

How to Talk About Illness in English

3 min read
10 February 2021
students talking outside the school

Being sick is not something that anyone looks forward to. It's never nice to feel ill and lose days or weeks of time to hiding under your bedcovers. However, knowing how to talk about it will make it easier to express why you’re not looking well. You might even get some sympathy, in the form of chicken soup! Read on for some vocabulary that will help you learn how to talk about illness in English.


1. To feel under the weather

To feel sick. This usually means a mild illness, but not one that would make you visit a hospital.

Example: “I feel a bit under the weather.”


2. A cold / coming down with a cold

To feel the symptoms of a mild illness in your nose or chest. You wouldn’t use “a cold” to describe a stomach illness.

Example: “I think I’m coming down with a cold.”


3. A bug / a bug going around

A bug is the term for an illness, or the germs that cause an illness.

Example: “There must be a bug going around. Everyone at work is sick!”


Kaplan students walking
"Hey James, do you still feel under the weather?"

4. A splitting headache

A very strong pain in the head.

Example: “Do you have any pain killers? I’ve got a splitting headache.”


5. Contagious

Easily passed from one person to another, usually used to describe illness.

Example: “Don’t get too close! My cold is contagious.”


Want to stay up to date on all things Kaplan?
students walking in the outdoor

Get all the latest updates on new products, courses and destinations!


6. The flu

An illness caused by a virus. In the US, the “flu” is limited to illness caused by the influenza virus. In the UK, “the flu” can be used to describe any sort of nose/chest illness.

Example: “I feel terrible today! My body aches and I can’t stop sneezing. I must have the flu.”


7. Stomach flu

A contagious stomach illness that is not caused by food poisoning.

Example: "It's always embarrassing to tell people you have a stomach flu!"


Once you’ve mastered this vocabulary, knowing how to talk about illness in English should be easy! One more thing you might want to say to friends who are feeling “under the weather”…


  • English

    Secure a deeper understanding of the English language

  • Vocabulary

    Broaden your English, French, and German vocabulary 

Share this article