Articles and illnesses: cold, a cold or the cold? flu, a flu, or the flu? ... measles, mumps, ...

sus4

Senior Member
Japan - Japanese
Hi,

According to my dictionary, "catch cold" is prefered to "catch a cold" in AE; and "have a cold" is correct, while "have cold" is not.

Is this true? Does anyone know why? "Catch a cold" is uncommon, but "catch a common cold" is correct. The use of the indefinite article confuses me at times.

<<Mod Note: This thread is the result of merging several threads on the same topic. Panj>>
 
  • sus4

    Senior Member
    Japan - Japanese
    Hi panjandrum:

    Thank you for the links; I just finished reading the threads. It seems like I need to memorize both the most common usage of the indefinite article and exceptions each time I come across a word like "cold."
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I realize a survey of one does not provide a concrete answer, but I've always said "catch a cold," despite what the dictionary says.

    The only time I have ever heard "catch cold" (no article) is when my grandparents would use it. For example, my grandmother used to tell me:

    Don't go out with wet hair. You'll catch cold.

    I can only assume that with successive generations, the article found its way back in.
     

    KittyCatty

    Senior Member
    English UK
    In my opinion, "catch a cold" is actually a lot more common than "catch a common cold" - they're the same thing, so it's easier to leave out the adjective.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It would be way beneath the dignity of anyone to be suffering from a common cold.
    Occasionally, the forms say "cold".
    Usually they say acute rhinitis.
    They NEVER say common cold!
     

    CAMullen

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I would imagine that the term "common cold" is similar to what the advertisements in the U.S. are currently calling "frequent heartburn" - as though the pain you are feeling at the moment near your solar plexus hurts more because it is "frequent."
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    My mother (born in Co. Tyrone in 1917) never cautioned us about catching a cold, or catching cold, we were told we'd "catch your death", or "catch your death of cold" whenever we dared to venture out without the parentally approved numbers of layers of garments on us.
    Needless to say, while we did catch colds, none of us caught our death. Parental overstatement again!
     

    roniy

    Senior Member
    ISRAEL: Fluent Hebrew ( Speak Russian, Learning English)
    1)- " I have a flue"
    - "I caught a flue"

    2) - " I am cooled"
    - " I have a cold"
    - " I caught a cold"

    Thanks.
     

    Moogey

    Senior Member
    USA English
    roniy said:
    1)- " I have the flue"
    - "I caught the flue"

    2) - " I am cooled" :cross:
    - " I have a cold"
    - " I caught a cold"

    Thanks.
    Hi!

    Well actually, they're different. I'm don't have medical qualifications and I'd love to explain the difference to you, but I can't, so instead I will refer you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influenza (for the Flu) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_cold (for the Cold)

    Sorry I couldn't have explained it myself, but I'd hate to incorrectly characterize them. Anybody here have medical education? :D

    -M
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    No, sorry... no medical education. I just wanted to underline Moogey's spelling correction of "flu", not "flue." There is such a thing as a flue in English. It's the air channel in a chimney.

    As a bit of trivia, I can remember that "flu" used to be written quite often with an apostrophe in front of it, like this - 'flu. I think this was to indicate it was a nickname for the full word "influenza". That seems to have died out over my lifetime.
     

    Tresley

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would say:

    "I've got the flu" / "I've had the flu" and "I've got a cold" / "I've had a cold".

    The difference between the two.........

    Well, I have only ever had the flu once in my life, but I have had many, many colds.

    When I had the flu I felt really, really dreadful. I had no energy for days. I couldn't get out of bed. In short......I thought that I was about to die!!

    With a cold, you can generally carry on doing things, but have to blow your nose from time to time!
     

    Kräuter_Fee

    Senior Member
    Portuguese & Spanish
    The flu and a cold aren't the same thing.

    The flu is a virus, if you get the influenza virus you got the flu.

    You can get a cold because you caught cold weather or because of temperature differences.

    The flu is much worse than a cold, if you get the flu you usually get a temperature, your back, your head and everything else hurts, sometimes you throw up, you can't eat and so on. A cold is simply sneezing and coughing.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Influenza is caused by a virus - one of many viruses.

    A cold is also a virus infection - one of many viruses.

    They are different viruses, of course.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I thought the question was about which was the most common way of saying you had a cold or the flu, not which illness was more common... but then, I've been known to miss the point entirely. :)
     

    Kevman

    Senior Member
    USA English
    1) I have the flu.
    I get the flu.

    2) I have a cold.
    I catch a cold.
    I catch cold.

    For some reason I never seem to say that I 'catch' the flu, or that I 'get' a cold. I don't know why. :confused:
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Nobody has answered this question!

    In my experience people say "I had the flu" or "I had a 24-hour flu bug" or "I think i'm getting the flu"-- whenever they have a cold or other ailment that is really miserable.

    In other words, people misuse the words, and they do it a lot. You don't get much sympathy for catching a cold, no matter how severe a cold it is. Say "the flu" and people are more likely to commiserate.

    Almost forgot to answer! Say "I have a cold" when you have a cold, and "I have the flu" when you have the flu.
    .
     

    Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    foxfirebrand said:
    Nobody has answered this question!

    In my experience people say "I had the flu" or "I had a 24-hour flu bug" or "I think i'm getting the flu"-- whenever they have a cold or other ailment that is really miserable.

    In other words, people misuse the words, and they do it a lot. You don't get much sympathy for catching a cold, no matter how severe a cold it is. Say "the flu" and people are more likely to commiserate.

    Almost forgot to answer! Say "I have a cold" when you have a cold, and "I have the flu" when you have the flu.
    .
    This annoys me! Last year my son got the real 'flu, and he seriously suffered! People shouldn't take it lightly..
     

    DavyBCN

    Senior Member
    UK - English
    Kevman said:
    1) I have the flu.
    I get the flu.

    2) I have a cold.
    I catch a cold.
    I catch cold.

    For some reason I never seem to say that I 'catch' the flu, or that I 'get' a cold. I don't know why. :confused:
    I have flu is far more common in BE than I have the flu.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Victoria32 said:
    This annoys me! Last year my son got the real 'flu, and he seriously suffered! People shouldn't take it lightly..
    Me too! I've had the flu once in my life, in 1968. I never say I have the flu when I have a cold. Inflation isn't always a monetary problem, and it has to be fought on all fronts.

    Not that a terrible cold is to be taken so lightly! If we do, people are going to be tempted to say they have the flu!

    I noted the post about BE usage-- in AE I think it's safe to say we always use the definite article.

    We had a long and interesting thread on the indefinite article (or lack thereoo) with toothache some time back. Worth a read, I think.
    .
     

    desponia

    Member
    Polish
    What is the difference between flu and the flu, measles and the mesles, mumps and the mumps? Which ones we use when we talk about being ill with them?
     

    Lemminkäinen

    Senior Member
    Norwegian (bokmål)
    I'm not sure, but I can't really think of any phrases where you use the indefinite form (I'm sure it's possible in some way that escapes me at the moment though), but it seems to me the definite form is the most usual in phrases like:

    I've got the measles

    He caught the flu

    He has the mumps
     

    Ibi

    New Member
    Italian, Italy
    Isn't it depending on what the illness is?
    I learned "He got A flu", "He has A flu" and not THE flu.
     

    Giordano Bruno

    Senior Member
    English, England
    Both "mumps" and "measles" referred originally to the symptoms, and so perhaps, originally required the definite article. "Influenza" comes from Italian, I think, and refers to the influence of a comet and thus would have required a definite article. Now that we think of them as specific diseases, the definite article is not necessary. This is just a guess on my part.
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    I've heard people say 'measles' and 'flu' with the definite article, but never 'mumps', but there seems to be no logical explanation therefor. Nowadays I think few people would use an article. As regards your thread Ibi, I've never heard the indefinite article used, at least by a native BE speaker.
     

    Tresley

    Senior Member
    British English
    In the UK I would say that we always say "He/she has got the flu".

    Measles, mumps or whatever.....it's a different story.

    Personally, I would not insert the definite article (THE). Simply say:

    "He/she has got measles, mumps, chickenpox, rubella etc"

    For a cold, it is always:

    "He/she has got/caught a cold"

    Hope this helps
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    I think to say we always use 'the flu' is a little presumptuous. I'm a native speaker and never use the article, or hardly ever. I certainly agree that 'cold' requires the indefinite article.
     

    Tresley

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think to say we always use 'the flu' is a little presumptuous. I'm a native speaker and never use the article, or hardly ever. I certainly agree that 'cold' requires the indefinite article.
    So why are there currently adverts on British telly that say:

    "So you don't get THE flu this winter, get a jab!" (NHS advert).

    What part of the UK do you come from?
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    Really? I would definitely say "I've got the mumps/measles/flu" regardless of situation.
    I would too. This is all I ever heard. Could it be regional?

    I would use "a flu" in this situation:

    "There is a flu going around this year that seems especially nasty."

    Results 1 - 10 of about 1,800 for "I have the mumps".
    Results 1 - 10 of about 1,090 for "I have mumps".
     

    I_Love_Lamp

    Member
    English, USA
    I would too. This is all I ever heard. Could it be regional?

    I would use &quot;a flu&quot; in this situation:

    &quot;There is a flu going around this year that seems especially nasty.&quot;

    Results 1 - 10 of about 1,800 for &quot;I have the mumps&quot;.
    Results 1 - 10 of about 1,090 for &quot;I have mumps&quot;.
    Perhaps it is regional, I'm originally from the US Northeast. But I lived in Arizona for 4 years and I think it was still said the same. Guess we're just weird :)
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    Tresley, I did not say it was wrong to use 'the', just presumptuous to say 'we always use it'. It's no surprise and there's absolutely nothing amiss with the NHS advert. For your information I'm from the SE.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Perhaps it is regional, I'm originally from the US Northeast. But I lived in Arizona for 4 years and I think it was still said the same. Guess we're just weird :)
    No, I don't think you are. Now that I think about it, "the mumps" and "the measles" don't sound so strange. I guess both versions are acceptable. I can't say I've ever used these words in speech since I've never had either of the diseases in question, and neither has anyone I know. But I would say "I have chickenpox" (without an article).

    What I do know is that it's always "the flu" (in American English).
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    My grammar books maintain that diseases have no articles except the flu.
    That may be the way the trend is going, but it has not completely eradicated the mumps, the measles or the chicken-pox, and has absolutely no chance at all against the common cold.

    Oh, yes, flu or the flu - both are commonly used here.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    My grammar books maintain that diseases have no articles except the flu.
    At the time I was born, many of us in the US had the measles, the chickenpox and the mumps. We always used the article for these diseases.

    There are many grammars for the English language. They do not always agree.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    50+ years ago I had measles (both kinds), mumps and chickenpox. Fortunately I never got smallpox.

    That's the usage, as far as I'm concerned, and I agree with people who can't use flu without the definite article, or cold without the indefinite.

    But it's one of those things that mutate and morph around in your mind the more you think about it, isn't it? "The mumps" is starting to sound okay, but "measles" is still standing alone, even in expressions like "red measles" or 'German measles," which for aught I know aren't being used any more.

    "The chickenpox." Nope, doesn't sound right to me.

    lucretia said:
    My grammar books maintain that diseases have no articles except the flu.
    The plague.
    The bends.
    The clap-- or is that too slangy?

    Speaking of STDs, I had to laugh at a scene in The Andy Griffith Show. Barney's girlfriend had fixed Andy up with a blind date, and she wasn't much into fun, entertainment, recreation-- or much of anything. The other three people in the double date were coming up with suggestion after suggestion, and she wasn't about to have any of them. Also, she had a completely expressionless and deadpan delivery. She was costumed primly and made up drably, with her hair pulled back extra tight in a "librarian" bun.

    So Andy finally suggested a picnic. In the most matter-of-fact tone, with no inflection whatsoever, she delivered her fall-off-the-chair line: "Oh no, I never go out in the sun. It gives me the herpes."

    So I guess the comment about regionalisms was very apt, and of course the sitcom I mentioned was also made over 40 years ago.
    .
    .
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    "The chickenpox." Nope, doesn't sound right to me.
    Results 1 - 10 of about 126 for "I had the chicken pox when".
    Results 1 - 10 of about 360 for "I had chicken pox when".

    Results 1 - 10 of about 64 for "I had the measles when".
    Results 1 - 10 of about 40 for "I had measles when".

    Results 1 - 10 of about 46 for "I had the mumps when".
    Results 1 - 10 of about 105 for "I had mumps when".

    I had to be a bit "creative" to find a phrase that would exclude things such as "the measles vacine".
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    The chickenpox is a new one for me. Altrhough I no longer use the article personally, I do recall that a long time ago people said the measles and the mumps but chickenpox, German measles, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, etc. never had an article attached. The pox (without the chicken) was used when it referred to STDs. (venereal diseases in my book - I'm old-fashioned sometimes and like to call a spade a spade.

    I've just had a run through Yahoo:

    flu 61,100,000
    the flu 59,300,000

    I've got flu 3,630,000
    I've got the flu 3,680,000
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    The pox (without the chicken) was used when it referred to STDs. (venereal diseases in my book - I'm old-fashioned sometimes and like to call a spade a spade.
    This is probably why "chicken pox" is usually written as two words. (This does not explain "smallpox" or why "smallpox" is used without an article.)
    Results 1 - 10 of about 127,000 for chickenpox
    Results 1 - 10 of about 1,810,000 for "chicken pox"
    I've just had a run through Yahoo:

    flu 61,100,000
    the flu 59,300,000
    Yahoo:
    1 - 10 of about 603 for "I've got flu" - 0.36 sec.
    1 - 10 of about 11,500 for "I've got the flu" - 0.32 sec.

    Google:
    Results 1 - 10 of about 2,940 for "I've got flu".
    Results 1 - 10 of about 15,400 for "I've got the flu".

    I think you forgot to use quotes!

    Searching for "hits" only indicates usage. It's only one factor. We all know that something that is wrong may be more common than what is right.

    I am sure that I always heard "the measles" and "the mumps", but I'm only reporting what was used by my family at the time I was growing up in New York (state).

    I still think we dealing with something that is, at the very least, regional. :)
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I suppose for the same reason as chickenpox. Regional and possibly personal also.
    Even "chickenpox", the word itself, is an AE/BE problem. BE shows it as one word. AE shows it as two. I JUST found that out.

    It seems that we are dealing with many factors.

    It would be wonderful if we could search for usage in medical texts or ask for only "formal usage". So far the whole question of article vs. no article remains unanswered for the words "mumps", "measles" and "chickenpox/chicken pox".

    The words specifically mentioned in the title of this thread are easier to analyze (analyse). ;)
     

    bay jacob

    New Member
    turkish turkey
    HI. We say " a cold", " a headache", " a sore throat". why do we use "the" in the measles; and why don't we use any article for "flu" ?
     
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