catch a cold or catch cold?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by fatbaby, Nov 16, 2007.

  1. fatbaby Senior Member

    China Chinese
    You'll catch a cold if you go outside with your hair wet.
    You'll catch cold if you go outside with your hair wet.
    So. my question is which is idiomatic?
    Actually, I got 277.000 for catch a cold
    131,000 for catch cold. I mean google search.

  2. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    I've heard people say both. I say "catch a cold."
  3. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    The expressions mean something different:

    To catch a cold is to catch the disease.

    To catch cold, or to take cold is to stay out too long in cold weather and spend a long time shivering afterwards. The experience may cause you to catch a cold, but not necessarily.
  4. fatbaby Senior Member

    China Chinese
    Thank you both!
    But I felt still feel confused about what Thomas Tompion said.Would you please give me examples? Thanks again!
  5. victoria1 Senior Member

    Mauritius - English & French
    Ex. "You will catch cold if you don't come inside the house immediately", says a Mom to her child.

    Ex. Peter did not go to work because he caught a cold.

    Is it clear to you now. Thomas has rightly pointed out the difference between the two.
  6. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    A cold is a disease which lasts a few days, characterised by sneezing, a runny nose, headache, and mild malaise, but not usually accompanied by fever. It is often followed by a cough which my last a week or two. If you go out and catch cold, you need to take a hot bath and keep very warm for several hours and, with luck, you won't come to harm. If you catch cold you may cause yourself to catch a cold but you may be lucky and avoid doing so.
  7. BoTrojan Senior Member

    New Wilmington, PA
    USA, English
    Hmmm. I have to say that in my experience, these phrases are pretty much interchangeable. Try as you might to find a difference in meaning, I don't believe there is ... at least not in common AE parlance.

    Be careful or you'll catch cold!
    Be careful or you'll catch a cold!
    Be careful or you'll catch your death of cold!

    They all mean exactly the same to me.
  8. Vinlander Senior Member

    Canada, American English (mostly)
    They don't to me at all.
    ... you'll catch cold!
    Idiomatic, you will feel your body temperature drop (or feel cold).
    ... you'll catch a cold!
    Not idiomatic, you will contract a case of Acute viral nasopharyngitis, or acute coryza, also known as the common cold.
    ... you'll catch your death of cold!
    You will die of hypothermia (probably an overstatement).

  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    They mean the same to me.
    Clearly, from the OED, it depends where you are on the timeline from formerly to now.

    42. to catch cold: formerly, to become chilled by exposure to cold; now, to contract the ailment called a ‘cold’ or catarrh, to ‘take cold’. Also, in this sense, to catch a cold.

    To my surprise, I am at now :)
  10. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    With snow in today's weather forecast, I'll report that in this part of the world,
    to catch cold and to catch a cold both refer to getting sick. Catch your death of cold
    is an old-fashioned term found in books, not in speech, and generally meant to get
    very ill with a cold. It was a bit alarmist.
  11. fatbaby Senior Member

    China Chinese
    Thanks to you all!
    I'd like to go further about the A COLD & COLD question.
    What should I say if more than two persons catch the disease COLD?
    A couple of kids in my class caught A cold last week?
    Should I drop the A in above sentence?
  12. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    As you have noticed above, there are regional differences of opinion. In my part of
    the AE speaking arena, we would say, " cold last week".
    To add to the muddle, we might also say that they caught colds.
  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Around here, a lot of kids in the class had colds last week.
    We tend not to catch colds.
  14. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Must be all the vitamin C in the Irish diet.

    This points to an interesting AE distinction. To catch cold/catch a cold is to come down with the illness. To have a cold is to suffer its effects, to be ill. We use both terms, but the first usually refers to the onset.
  15. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    Interesting, but how do they gauge this change in meaning? I guess you could say that about any change in meaning, but I wonder how the researchers know which was meant?

    I actually agree with Thomas T. and Vinlander, and allow a distinction. However, of course, I can't always know which is meant either!

    Possibly the distinction is deemed to be gone on the basis of better medical knowledge, nevertheless the folk-medicine feeling persists. It reminds me of the Queen's "chills", which were debunked in the media a number of years ago (there is no so thing as a "chill" medically).
  16. yourkillingme16

    yourkillingme16 Banned

    We always say "you'll catch a cold" when refering to the sickness. And if you say "you'll catch cold" it means you'll get really cold. (Though we don't use that phrase really, that's what it means if someone did use it.) :)

    I don't really think that you could use
    "several kids caught cold in our class" without it sounding quite off.
    However "Several kids caught colds" is fine.
    "I caught a cold."-A tells me that I caught the illness/sickness that we call a "cold"
    I wouldn't say
    "I caught cold."-Doesn't specify anything, so I would take it to mean that I was cold.
  17. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    That's really interesting. I agree with yourkillingme, who is sixteen, and not with the OED, which seems to have rubbished the old meaning of to catch cold, before it deserved it - certainly if sixteen-year-olds are still using it. I wonder if it's a Northern thing. I learnt to speak in Manchester. In which part of the country is Loserville, I wonder.
  18. Vinlander Senior Member

    Canada, American English (mostly)
    It wouldn't be wrong to have the A there because there is the sense that they are catching the same cold, the cold that is going round the school, community, &c.. It relates to how we think about colds as a disease. One could say, A couple of kids in my class caught the plague last week? (the as there are different sorts of plague and they caught a specific one, bubonic perhaps, maybe Mickey Mouse visited the school). There is also popular idea (based on the actual nature of the viruses causing colds) that there are different colds going around at times, so it would make sense to say:
    I caught the cold going round in November, it wasn't so bad. But then I got the cold on the go in January and it was nastier. I get a lot of colds. I suppose, with my luck, I will get a cold during my vacation.
    That wouldn't work if you substituted smallpox for cold (ignoring the medical implications of that for the moment) because there is the popular sense that there is only one form of smallpox.

  19. bosun Banned

    What is the differnece between ' catch a cold' and ' have a cold'? which one is right in the followig sentence?

    If i had not caguth( or had??) a cold, I could have attended class.
  20. Fedman3 Senior Member

    Los Angeles, California
    Spanish - Mexico
    Bosun, first you catch a cold, then you have it. In the context of your sentence, the more active form (catching it) would work better.

    If I had not caught a cold, I would have attended class.
  21. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    To "catch" a cold is technically, the process of getting the cold virus. If you start to feel a stuffy head and a scratchy throat, you would say "I think that I'm catching a cold." Once you have the full-blown effects of a cold, you say "I have a cold".

    To confuse matters somewhat, you can say "If I hadn't caught a cold, I could have attended class" but you can also say "If I hadn't had a cold, I could have attended class."

    In other words, "catching" a cold is simply the processing of becoming ill with a cold. You "caught" a cold so you now "have" a cold.
  22. NEONAV New Member

    India- Hindi and English
    Does Catch a cold also mean to make a loss; to lose one's investment?
  23. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've never encountered this meaning. Have you seen it used like this somewhere?

    Welcome to the Forum, Neonav!
  24. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    I see Forbes likes it: Chinese Property Tycoons Catch Cold Amid Chilling Market

    And MarketWatch: Banks shares catch a cold even after surviving health check

    So it would seem to be financial jargon, although I see that Collins lists it as slang: (slang) to make a loss; lose one's investment

    But the examples they cite only include one that's financial – By that logic, when Wall Street sneezes, Dalal Street cannot but catch a cold. Business Today (1997).
  25. Faramarz2015

    Faramarz2015 Senior Member

    < This question has been added to a previous discussion. Cagey, moderator. >


    I wonder if it's correct to use the collocation "to catch a cold" without "a". For example: "If you stay out in the rain you'll catch cold!" Could you help me? (I found the example in the Oxford dictionary.)

    Thank you so much.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 15, 2015
  26. Glenfarclas Senior Member

    English (American)
    People say it both ways.
  27. I agree people say it both ways and the difference is very slight.

    you'll catch a cold = I predict you will get one incident of the congestive illness we call "a cold."

    you'll catch cold=your body will become cold and damp and weakened. This makes you vulnerable to getting colds.

    (Even though the relationship between getting chilled and then ill is now disputed by some researchers.:))
  28. Glenfarclas Senior Member

    English (American)
    That's not how I interpret it... For me they both refer to getting the common cold.
  29. That's what I just said.
  30. Glenfarclas Senior Member

    English (American)
    :confused: You said that "catching cold" referred to being physically chilled.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2015
  31. which then leads to getting colds, the common cold.
  32. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't make the distinction Dale makes: "catch cold" and "catch a cold" have identical meanings to me. I happen to say "catch a cold" but I probably wouldn't notice if someone I was talking to used the version without "a".
  33. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    They mean the exact same thing to me, too. I don't differentiate at all between the two.

    I think if I wanted to indicate the "cold and damp and weakened" condition that Dale referred to, I might say "catch a chill." But maybe not. That's not something that comes up in conversation very often for me.
  34. I was all alone here until the thread was merged. :D
  35. Firehawk70 New Member

    English, US, Western NY

    As a native English speaker from Western NY, I can say they both mean exactly the same things when people say it, and in fact, both meanings are attributed to both phrases. Either you will become sick with a cold virus (the common rhinovirus known as "the cold"), and/or your resistance will be down and then you will become sick with a cold virus.

    The use of "a" in the middle is often regional and usually in my experience, less educated or much older people leave out the "a", my grandmother being one. So both phrases mean both things, neither phrase means the other more often. I'm pretty sure my grandmother believed that being outside IS what caused you to be sick, not that there was a virus.

    In terms of the financial markets - this is a play on words, it is not a literal meaning. It is not financial jargon. They are poetically saying that the financial markets are sick, simple as that. Catch a cold/catch cold has nothing intrinsic to do with finance and never has. If Collins lists it as slang, it's due to the play on words that has come to be, not because it ever really meant losing an investment.

    Oh and apparently the research is in, again....(as of Jan 2015)... being outside and having your body temperature lowered does actually contribute to you becoming sick from a rhinovirus. It's not just an old wives tale... oh wait, did I just kick up another forum posting?
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2015 at 5:32 PM

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