The difference between sick and ill

6

I feel ill or sick. Both mean the same. But when they modify a noun, do they mean the same? For example,

Sentence A: He is a sick person.

Sentence B: He is an ill person.

Do they mean the same?

I want to know the difference because 'ill' can mean 'bad' in some senses.

Little Papa

Posted 2019-01-18T04:06:00.173

Reputation: 75

Question was closed 2019-01-18T11:34:20.747

Answers

8

As you've already said, ill can mean bad in some senses. But so can sick. In fact, sick is the more common word if you want to describe somebody in the bad sense. (However, sick can also be used as a slang term for cool or awesome.)

Context determines the meaning:

That serial killer is one sick individual.
Ill intentions often result in ill deeds.


If you mean physically unwell, neither of your sentences would be normal. By adding person, you are implying the bad sense.

The best way to describe someone who is unwell, and have it be interpreted as you want, is to add the word feeling:

He is feeling sick.
He is feeling ill.

Or:

He isn't feeling well.

It's also common to say (in informal dialogue):

"He isn't feeling good."


In terms of describing being physically unwell, sick and ill are mostly used interchangeably.

But per Google Books NGram Viewer, sick seems to be the more common of the two words.

ill or well

Jason Bassford

Posted 2019-01-18T04:06:00.173

Reputation: 34 584

1Also, in a slang context, I've heard "ill" as a more positive adjective (Beastie Boys song "Time to Get Ill"). "Sick" can be used in the same way. – user45266 – 2019-01-18T04:51:11.127

Thank you very much, @Jason Bassford. I can now understand from your explanation that the meaning has to be deduced from context rather than words themselves. – Little Papa – 2019-01-18T05:11:47.570

3In British English, to 'be sick' commonly means to vomit, and what is produced can be called 'sick' (mass noun). Child: what's for dinner, Daddy? Father, jocularly: a cup of cold sick! – Michael Harvey – 2019-01-18T07:56:47.487

3It's even more confusing than that: ‘to feel ill’ and ‘to feel sick’ can both refer either to general illness or to nausea, too.  Similarly, some people use ‘to be ill’ to refer to vomiting, in the same way I'd say ‘to be sick’.  So there's a shedload of ambiguity there. – gidds – 2019-01-18T09:28:42.960

2Although "ill" can mean bad in some situations (such as your examples), I think it's important to note that "He is ill" unambiguously means "He is not healthy". – David Richerby – 2019-01-18T10:57:53.740