Posted by: Idioma Extra | January 28, 2010

Thursday’s Tidbit


The English language has quite a few verbs to describe types of pain or damage. But what’s the difference? Read on to find out, then check out the quick summary at the end and finally test your understanding with our quiz at the end. Good luck!

If part of your body hurts, you feel pain there. If you hurt someone, you cause them to feel pain. Note that verbs that refer to physical feelings (hurt, ache, etc) can often be used in simple or progressive tenses with no difference in meaning:

  • Have you been knocked over? Tell me where it hurts / it’s hurting. ~ My arm hurts.
  • You’re hurting my arm. Ouch! Don’t touch me. That hurts!

You can also hurt someone’s feelings, and cause them to feel emotional pain:

hurt (verb)

  • I think she’s going to be hurt. Her confidence will never be the same again.

hurt (noun/adjective)

  • The hurt that she felt would only go away with time.
  • They were suffering from shock but did not seem to be otherwise hurt.


injure (verb)
In the sentence describing people suffering from shock above, hurt could be replaced by injured. If you injure somebody, you cause physical damage to part of their body usually the result of an accident or through fighting:

  • A number of bombs have exploded, seriously injuring hundreds of people.
  • The demonstrators injured innocent people when they started throwing stones.

injured / injury (nouns) / injured (adj)

  • The injured were taken to hospital by air-ambulance. Their injuries were thought to be serious.
  • He was not seriously injured, but he stopped playing the soccer game to be safe.


wound (verb)
If you wound somebody, you inflict physical damage on part of their body, especially a cut or a hole in their flesh caused by a gun, a knife or some other weapon, often in battle.

  • There was no escape. They were mortally wounded by the enemy fire.
  • The driver of the Red-Cross ambulance was wounded by the shrapnel.

In English, it is often a matter of knowing which adjectives go with which nouns and which adverbs go with which verbs. Some adverb-verb collocations are the following: badly hurt / seriously injured / mortally wounded.

wound (noun) / wounded (adj)

  • The open wound really needed stitches and took a long time to heal.
  • The four wounded men were taken to the field hospital in the back of the Jeep.


damage (verb)
Things are damaged, not people. Damage is the physical harm that is caused to an object. More abstract qualities, such as reputations and the economy can also be damaged. Compare the following:

  • The car was so badly damaged in the accident that it was barely worth repairing.
  • If he continues drinking like that, his reputation will be damaged.
  • High inflation was damaging the country’s economy.

damage (noun) / damaged (adj)
However, we can also speak of someone being brain-damaged (not brain-injured) or suffering brain damage. But this is an exception. Normally damage relates to inanimate objects:

  • Professional boxers sometimes suffer irreversible brain damage.
  • It was a huge bomb and the damage caused to the shopping precinct was quite extensive.


harm (verb)
People OR things can be harmed or physically damaged:

  • The bank robbers were anxious not to harm anyone.
  • Humans are harming the environment.

harmful / harmless (adjs)
Harmful and harmless describe something that has or does not have a bad effect on something else:

  • He looks quite ferocious and barks quite loudly, but he’s quite harmless.
  • The harmful effects of smoking are well-documented.

So, in summary:

HURT: physical or emotional pain, used for people
INJURE: physical pain, used for people
WOUND: physical damage (specifically a cut or hole in flesh), used for people
DAMAGE: used for objects or abstract ideas (exception: brain-damaged used for a person)
HARM: physical pain/damage, used for people and things

Test Yourself!

Complete the following sentences with the correct form of hurt, injure, wound, damage or harm.

  1. The electrical storm caused too much ___________ to the television set, so they had to throw it out.
  2. After the earthquake, the number of seriously ___________ people was so great that they had to call in international rescue efforts.
  3. Rebecca was a strong woman, but after her boss fired her, she was so __________ that she ran to the bathroom and cried. She knew she had lost a great job.
  4. The ____________ on her arm wouldn’t stop bleeding, so she went to the hospital.
  5. Most people know that sugar ____________ your teeth; however, the ____________ effects of sugar are not as bad as those of nicotine on your teeth and lungs.

Answers from the Last Tidbit

  1. Even though Jake didn’t like golfing, he knew a membership at the country club was critical to making good contacts with his job.
  2. The silence of the office was eerie as Jane continued working past 9 o’clock. She decided she was going to leave soon.
  3. Rob liked everything about his new office except the neighborhood. He knew he was going to have to be careful when leaving the office at night.
  4. The new arrangement of desks in the classroom confused the students when they walked into class.

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