Is the term 'Invalid' applicable for human beings?



As I was reading a novel 'What Katy Did', I came across an interesting mention of the word Invalid.

His wife was said to be an invalid, and people, when they spoke of him, shook their heads and wondered how the poor woman got on all alone in the house, while her husband was absent.

For me, it sounds off. Can invalid be a valid word for human beings?

I have heard about things like - the credit card is invalid, the transaction is invalid, your registration is invalid..., but how about your husband is invalid?


Posted 2014-04-17T10:12:56.400

Reputation: 253

5Maulik's answer is certainly correct, but the pronunciation difference is important so make sure you check out Chenmunka's answer as well. – Tyler James Young – 2014-04-17T14:03:38.443

I strongly suggest reading FumbleFinger's answer. It provides the most accurate and relevant information, with the more important details provided. Maulik's answer doesn't particularly detail out what an invalid is beyond being sick (it's not that simple). Chenmunka's answer also doesn't provide too much detail and what it does provide is potentially confusing and could lead to insult if a learner used 'invalid' to describe a person with just any disability (a person in a wheelchair, blind, etc is not an invalid, even though they are disabled/handicapped). – Doc – 2014-04-18T23:59:22.923

@Doc You can even add too much detail by go on explaining the etymology, justification of whether it should be PC/NONPC and so on. But The OP here simply asked, what invalid means here and he seems unaware of the basic definition. The basic question is How a person can be invalid (which I addressed it) and not Is calling a person 'invalid' morally okay?' (This I would have certainly explained thoroughly being a healthcare provider). And yes, I know this better than others because my mother is invalid since last year. – Maulik V – 2014-04-19T05:18:51.230

1@MaulikV I have no comment regarding morality or PC, but calling a blind person an invalid simply isn't the proper use of the word. Nor would a person with chronic back pain, Asthma, Diabetes, Epilepsy, HIV, etc - all of which are chronic illnesses that fall into your provided extremely oversimplified definition. Most injuries, even extremely serious ones that lead to amputation of multiple limbs would also not make a person an invalid (except maybe temporarily during early recovery). Those details are important to understanding the basic definition. – Doc – 2014-04-19T07:40:27.720

The film Gattaca uses the term in the nonconventional sense of "this person is not valid". I haven't seen it used this way anywhere else. – None – 2014-04-19T08:30:18.480



invalid there is a noun.

invalid (n) - Someone who is incapacitated by a chronic illness or injury.

Having this said, his wife seems to be very sick, in a crucial condition that might have made her incapacitated.

Now since there's discussion about the degree of being incapacitated (which makes you ultimately invalid), I'm adding a bit to improve this answer.

Here is another reference from OLD:

invalid (n) - a person who needs other people to take care of them, because of illness that they have had for a long time.

Now, if you look at both the definitions, you see that the term invalid ranges from someone being assisted by others to walk, eat or do routine activity to someone who is permanently bedridden (as in the last stage of cancers). Contrary to what Doc and FumbleFingers, it is not always necessary that invalid person is so so so sick that he/she is on the deathbed. And, I'm a doctor and have come across many such patients with chronic illness (in fact, have worked in hospitals that only take such cases).

The OLD further explains it in its example:

She had been a delicate child and her parents had treated her as an invalid

Furthermore, delicate here means:

delicate (n) - (of a person) not strong and easily becoming sick

That's where the WordWeb definition fits in. Invalid is someone who is incapacitated - not able to perform their tasks because of illness that has brought weakness. Here, the child does not necessary to have Ryley's tube or Folly's catheter as Doc mentions.

On the other hand, invalid does not always mean that the person is just incapable to do things and is not so critical. That's why I said, the term applies to incapacitation and this varies from degree to degree depending on the illness that person has.

Check this here:

enter image description here

If you see Saturnino Soncko (a person working in the silver mines of Cerro Rico), he's certainly invalid but I can still argue and deny calling him invalid as at least he is not that incapacitated! In that picture at least he is sitting without any assistance whereas invalid requires support even for this, don't they? They certainly do I see the woman every day. She is an invalid and cannot move anything other than her eyes.

Again, invalid is certainly a serious condition but it varies in degrees or severity depending upon the type of illness. I'm not sure to apply partially invalid or completely invalid for that though it might make better sense.

Maulik V

Posted 2014-04-17T10:12:56.400

Reputation: 66 188

1Typically, to be an invalid, the person must be so ill that they are bedridden and unable to do much of anything themselves. They must be fed, they may need the use of a bed-pan (basically a pan in the bed that they use to urinate in), etc. Being blind, or missing a limb or such would not cause you to be an invalid, as you can still do stuff yourself. – Doc – 2014-04-18T20:54:36.067

@Alium Britt what about too bad, too pathetic and other such negative words? Tea is too hot to drink and tea is very hot to drink -both means you cannot drink it now but have a bit difference in meaning. In fact, I intentionally put too to bring in more seriousness. Anyway, already approved by WendiKid so let it be. – Maulik V – 2014-04-20T04:38:19.580

2I never suggested invalid implies someone is so ill they're "on their deathbed", and I doubt @Doc thinks that either. As he says, invalid is normally used of people who are unable to care for themselves properly - usually caused by chronic illness, often leading to the person being bedridden, but not particularly associated with imminent death. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-20T12:35:48.943

the french spelling "Invalide" is sometimes used in English to clearly disambiguate and to indicate the alternative pronunciation. – Cor_Blimey – 2014-04-20T17:17:13.630

Like @FumbleFingers said, I don't mean to imply that an invalid is on their deathbed, or even that they are incapable of all things, but that they are unable to care for themselves in many 'basic' ways. Perhaps they need to be fed because they are unable to walk to the kitchen and cook their own food (so must have someone else cook it and bring it to them, perhaps even spooning it into their mouths, nasogastric intubation unnecessary). Maybe they require spongebaths because they can't take a traditional shower/bath. Maybe they can't walk to the toilet, and so need a bed pan. Etc. – Doc – 2014-04-20T18:20:46.007

@MaulikV - When you use those other negative words, you also need to know what it is that you're exceeding. Sometimes it's obvious from context and then you don't have to directly say it, but you still need to know. The phrase "The tea is very hot to drink" is incorrect, but notice that in this sentence with "too" you're stating what is being exceeded, and that is the drinking temperature for tea. You can't say "too sick" without saying, for example "to stand up" or "to take care of herself". "Too" by itself doesn't simply mean a stronger version of "very". – Alium Britt – 2014-04-20T22:15:22.103


An invalid, pronounced with stress on the first syllable, is a person with a disability. The word is not used so often nowadays.

It is a noun and a different word to the adjective invalid, pronounced with stress on the second syllable, which means not valid.

So the last sentence of your question "Your husband is invalid" is incorrect, it would be "Your husband is an invalid".


Posted 2014-04-17T10:12:56.400

Reputation: 7 717

6+1 but I disagree that using invalid as a noun is uncommon or not pc; it is relatively common and the word itself is perfectly polite (although of course pointing out that someone is an invalid is socially delicate). – hunter – 2014-04-17T12:32:15.833

2@hunter; I don't find it non-PC either. However, I know some disabled people who do. Hence my use of "some people". As ever, political correctness is a murky area. – Chenmunka – 2014-04-17T12:34:39.523

@Chenmunka: I've no doubt many disabled people would object to being called invalids, but I don't really think that's because the term itself is "non-PC". It's just *the wrong word* for people who happen to have a disability (blind, missing a limb, etc.). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-17T13:23:58.400

3As a side note, Invalid is quite common in the german language as an synonym for handicapped... – None – 2014-04-17T11:55:53.020

@FumbleFingers - Just my opinion, but, if any people are offend by the term, then it falls under the "non-PC" umbrella. I'd have to research it, but I'd be surprised if there were no people out there who were bothered by this term, whether it was being applied to them, or someone else. – J.R. – 2014-04-17T13:36:42.210

1@J.R.: As referenced in my own answer, we did use the term invalid car/carriage, and that has definitely fallen out of favour. But in general invalid = disabled has never had any significant currency - so people will quite rightly object because it's *idiomatically non-standard*, not because it's non-PC. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-17T14:16:02.977

@J.R. I see your point, but is that perhaps not a little far? I think every word in the English language would be non-PC if it became so if it offended anyone whatsoever? I am sure there is for just about any word somebody who will find it offensive. – None – 2014-04-17T15:18:43.500

@user5842: yes, that is the danger with the "political correctness" movement. This has to do with evaluating the underlying meanings of words and coming up with ones that are less negative or judgmental for the same. Of course, the assessment that a word is judgmental is an exercise in being judgmental, so there are issues in that as well. "Invalid" was commonly in use when I was a child. The change to the more common "disabled" over that time avoids the connotation "not a valid person" that the term invalid implies. – BobRodes – 2014-04-17T15:28:31.703

@user5482 - What Bob said. Also, I suppose there would need to be more than one or two individuals who got offended by a term. I was just trying to say that whether or not something is "non-PC" fluctuates depending who decides in their own mind that something should be offensive. A word might be fine this year but cause people to bristle next year. It's often fuzzy, and sometimes ridiculous. – J.R. – 2014-04-17T16:37:11.093

9@BobRodes: I'm obviously in the minority here on ELL, but so far as I'm concerned this answer is hopelessly misleading, in that it starts off by saying *"an invalid is a person with a disability"*. But to most people, an invalid is a (usually, old, frequently bed-ridden) person enfeebled by *chronic illness/poor health*. Obviously many disabled people are perfectly fit (apart from their specific disability), so they wouldn't take kindly to being given that label by people who don't have a very firm grasp of how such terms are normally used. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-17T16:44:38.217

4@FumbleFingers: FWIW I agree. I'm not sure it's hopelessly misleading. It's true that an invalid has a disability of some kind (at least, I think a chronic debilitating illness could be called a form of disability), but it's not true that's what invalid means. The meaning of "an invalid" is closer to "incapacitated" than "disabled". It's also context-sensitive, for soldiers to be "invalided out" just meant they could no longer serve, so this did cover a wide range of injuries that might be called "disability" but wouldn't make them "an invalid" in civilian life. – Steve Jessop – 2014-04-17T17:25:53.967

@Steve: Per my own answer, there are specific usages where the meanings of invalid and disabled effectively overlap, but in general they don't much. I'd also point out that this answer currently makes no mention of adjectival invalid = in poor health - if you didn't already know about that, you'd probably be left with the impression there's only *noun = disabled person* and *adjective = not valid*, distinguished by whether the stress falls on the first or second syllable. And it incorrectly claims the word is not used so often nowadays. I stand by hopelessly misleading. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-17T18:08:14.980

I actually think I would laugh fairly heartily if I heard a woman intentionally say, "My husband is invalid." Because it would be awesome. – asteri – 2014-04-17T18:12:40.593

Definitions of "invalid" taken from the online dictionaries: suffering from disease or disability; one who is sickly or disabled; to remove from active duty by reason of sickness or disability; to make sickly or disabled; One who is incapacitated by a chronic illness or disability; a person suffering from disablement or chronic ill health; an infirm or sickly person, esp. one who is too sick or weak to care for himself or herself. Of these, the last one is the only one that doesn't mention disability in the definition. – BobRodes – 2014-04-17T18:57:21.753

Now, I might agree that the concept of "invalid" in most people's minds makes the person seem less capable of taking care of him/herself than "disabled". This may well be for the reasons I've stated, and it may not. It may, in fact, be one of the triumphs of the PC movement, loath as I may be to say so. However, I do not find that the statement "an invalid is a person with a disability" is misleading, hopelessly or otherwise. I may also say that I believe I have backed up my POV pretty well. :) – BobRodes – 2014-04-17T18:58:04.343

There's an old story about the customer who call up a computer company to complain that his computer was prejudiced. Whatever he typed, it responded with "invalid input not accepted", and he was furious that it wouldn't work for him just because he had a bad back... Yes, "invalid" is the correct spelling of two related but very different words. – keshlam – 2014-04-17T22:37:16.190

I think in Gattaca they called people in-val-ids (non-eugenic children who are "genetically disabled") rather than in-va-lids.

– Nick T – 2014-04-18T20:02:24.817


The most common usage (adjectival invalid = not valid) has stress on the second syllable. In principle this sense could occur as a noun ("We sorted the ballot papers into valids and invalids"), but this would be considered creative/non-standard usage.

But there's also adjectival invalid = in poor health, where the stress falls on the first syllable. As per OP's example, this is also often used as a noun - [an] invalid = [a person] in poor health.

It's not in the least a "politically incorrect" term. Anyone who thinks that may be mistakenly conflating it with handicapped = affected with a physical or mental disability (which is often considered offensive today, and tends to be replaced by disabled).

It's also worth pointing out that the term invalid car (aka invalid carriage) probably does have negative connotations. But that's mainly because (in the UK, at least) they were often seen as cheap, unsafe, and demeaning (for several decades, the UK motability scheme has provided disabled people with specially-modified versions of standard cars where practicable).

As the NGrams for my invalid mother and mother is an invalid show, usage has remained fairly constant over the past half-century. We don't often use the adjectival form my mother is invalid, but this is simply a matter of idiomatic preference, not "grammar".

The poor health sense also occurs (relatively rarely) as a verb meaning cause to be/treat as an invalid - often in passive constructions including a "destination", such as the patient was invalided home, the soldier was invalided out [of the war].

As Maulik's answer indicates, invalid carries the sense of infirm, enfeebled, or disabled as a result of chronic illness or injury. Political correctness aside, there's no clear-cut distinction between the two - but in general, invalid is more strongly associated with illness/health problems arising later in life, whereas handicapped is far more likely to be used in respect of congenital disorders (birth defects).

FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica

Posted 2014-04-17T10:12:56.400

Reputation: 52 587

1What makes anything politically incorrect is simply that a bunch of people think so, not necessarily for any, ahem, valid reason. – Kaz – 2014-04-17T18:52:12.083

@Kaz: I don't disagree. But I only posted my answer in the first place because the (still) top-rated answer claimed the invalid = infirm usage was "non-PC". And although it's now been edited out, it does seem that at least some people think there's some truth to this idea. But really, invalid cars got a bad press because they were rubbish cars, not because it was a bad word. Again, UK Incapacity Benefit replaced Invalidity Benefit because it was a different scheme, not because the old name was somehow "offensive".

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-17T20:38:03.623

This seems to be the best answer. Handicapped/disabled are not the same thing as an invalid. Typically, to be an invalid, the person must be so ill that they are bedridden and unable to do much of anything themselves. They may need to be fed, they may need the use of a bed-pan (basically a pan in the bed that they use to urinate in), etc. Being blind, or missing a limb or such would not cause you to be an invalid, as you can still do stuff yourself. – Doc – 2014-04-18T21:02:47.750

1@Doc: You're absolutely right that in general, invalids are more "ill" (and less able to live independently) than people who are classed as disabled, handicapped. I've made that point myself in other comments, but I realise now I didn't explicitly mention it in my answer text. I kinda think one of the drawbacks of ELL is that many if not most people casting votes aren't actually native speakers, so there are twice as many upvotes here for an answer that says an invalid ... is a person with a disability (among other errors). Or maybe people just like "voting for the underdog"! :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-18T21:18:50.187

@FumbleFingers Yeah, I noticed you had mentioned it in other comments, but if this ends up getting top voted eventually felt it'd be important to have it here too =P Also, completely agree with thoughts about votes. Same goes for the accepted answer which only provides a (very short) definition and "the wife seems to be sick" - not very useful to a learner... – Doc – 2014-04-18T23:56:38.123

@FumbleFingers voting for the underdog is not a polite comment. They are the ones who have voted for you as well :) – Maulik V – 2014-04-20T05:29:52.753

1@Maulik: I haven't checked your recent (extensive) edit, but I'd upvoted your original answer before posting my own (although yours was short, it seemed accurate so far as it went). My problem is with Chenmunka's answer - which I still think is not correct, and which is what prompted me to post an answer myself. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-20T12:24:58.893

@MaulikV Like FumbleFingers, I also upvoted your original answer, and simply left a comment to add a level of clarification for any readers. I also upvoted this answer. – Doc – 2014-04-20T18:17:13.607

+1 Good answer. However, at least in the U.S., the word 'handicapped' is used more generically than what is suggested here. It's used just as commonly to refer to people who are disabled due to old age or injury as it used to refer to those with congenital disorders. It does more commonly refer to situations where the condition is permanent, but even that isn't a requirement. – reirab – 2014-11-12T06:37:45.217

@reirrab: I didn't know that US/UK distinction until now. I've just found *I am American and the accepted term in the US is handicapped. Disabled is not PC*. If that's generally true then AmE sensitivities are a complete reversal of BrE. As that poster implies, the distinction seems to be completely arbitrary. I wonder which (if either) will eventually become the global standard for Anglophones.

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-11-12T14:23:16.853


There's a lot of French in English. If you ever get to Paris, there is a very famous place called Les Invalides and the reason it is called that is because it has a military hospital on the site. The invalids in question being war wounded. Oh, and Napoleon is buried there in the midst of the invalids because to be an invalid was very honourable indeed. So while you see the term as demeaning or even shocking, others see it quite differently.

But the term also applies to civilians.

Today as you go around France, you might be baffled to see parking spaces or train seats reserved for G.I.G. and G.I.C. In both cases the 'I' means invalides.

G.I.G. grands invalides de guerre (badly injured veterans i.e. impaired mobility)

G.I.C. grands invalides civils (badly injured civilians, see above)

English can be very mealy-mouthed viz the movement from invalid to incapacitated to handicapped to disabled to mobility challenged.


Posted 2014-04-17T10:12:56.400

Reputation: 384


In Russian language, 'invalid' term is applicable exactly to human beings and means the disabled human. I suppose it might be so in another languages, so there's question if the mentioned book was translated to English from another language.

Similar in general, but different in particularities meanings are typical for the words borrowed from another languages

F.ex.... 'hund' means 'a dog' in Norwegian, but 'hound' means the kind of dog in English

'Speculation' means something like pondering, contemplation, thinking in English, but in Russian it means only the buying something cheaper and sell expensive thus making the profit (it was reason to be jailed in Soviet times BTW :) ).

Origin is obviously the same but the usage survived for one particular meaning.

So for the word 'sympathy' has nothing common in its Russian analog with condolence, compassion - it means only something like attraction, appeal, affection.

And many another words which are borrowed tend to mutate in another languages acquiring slightly deviated meaning. Sometimes in the translated messages I noticed the misusing of such words when the interpreter translated it from English literally and it sounded off in Russian. I guess it might be a case for the discussed example as well.


Posted 2014-04-17T10:12:56.400

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