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Are you confused why symptoms need articles?

The use of articles when describing symptoms is something which confuses a lot of non-native speakers of English. Here are some articles you would use with most symptoms: A / An / The.

Articles for symptoms can be confusing and you might ask, “how can a cough be countable? Are you counting the number of times the patient coughs in front of you?”

It’s not that the symptom at the time the patient is experiencing it is countable, just that they can have the same symptom many times throughout their life. Unlike many medical conditions and medication names, most symptoms therefore require an article.

Here are some common examples:

  • a cough
  • a runny nose
  • a headache
  • a swollen ankle
  • a fever
  • a sore throat
  • a muscle cramp
  • a migraine

There are some exceptions to the rule because certain ‘symptom nouns’ can be uncountable. An easy way to identify them is by noting the word endings – they might give you a clue about the rule.

Examples can be found below:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • hearing loss
  • constipation
  • breathlessness
  • amnesia
  • diarrhoea

You can see a example of some of these words used in sentences below:

  • On review today, Mr X reported a fever and vomiting over the last week.
  • Mr Smith was admitted yesterday with a productive cough and breathlessness.

Read more about articles for medical procedures.