The Difference: Pain, Painful, or In Pain? (Vocabulary)

Firstly, let's make this clear:

  • pain = noun; e.g. “I have pain in my arm.”
  • painful = adjective; e.g. “My arm is painful.”
  • in pain = phrase that functions like an adjective; e.g. “The man was in pain.”

There is no verb in this word family (to pain is not a common verb; let's forget about it). So, both painful and in pain are used like adjectives. What's the difference?

The Difference: Painful vs. In pain

Painful describes a thing (such as a surgery, experience, or body part) not a person. Here are some examples:

  • The surgery was painful.
  • Getting stitches was painful.
  • Bee stings can be quite painful.
  • That was a painful experience.
  • My neck is painful.

Again, people cannot be painful.

  • Wrong: I am painful.
  • Wrong: The doctor saw the painful man.

In pain describes a person (or animal) who is feeling pain. Here are some examples:

  • The man was in pain.
  • I took some medicine because I was in pain.
  • You look like you are in pain.

Note: You cannot use `in pain' before a noun.

  • Not: The in pain woman was screaming. (woman = noun)
  • Correct: The woman who was in pain was screaming.

That's the main difference. Let's review...

  • pain = noun; e.g. “I have pain in my arm. “
  • painful = adjective describing a thing or experience; e.g. “My arm is painful.”
  • in pain = adjective describing a person; e.g. “The man was in pain.”
A lesson on pain.

He is in pain. He has pain in his chest. Breathing is painful for him.

Do you think you understand? Take the pain, painful, and in pain quiz.

The doctor told the woman to go to the hospital if she felt .

Getting a tattoo is .

The man said he had been  for several hours.

The  lasted for 30 minutes.

The doctor gave me some tablets to take if I'm .

Elderly people often suffer from  in their knees and back.

Biting your tongue is .


pain, painful, in pain, pain, in pain, pain, painful

I hope this lesson hasn't been too painful.

- Matthew Barton / Creator of

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9 comments on “The Difference: Pain, Painful, or In Pain? (Vocabulary)

  1. Victoria Tomlin (Posted on 6-30-2017 at 04:38) Reply

    I have completed the setence corectly

  2. CatherIne Turner (Posted on 9-26-2017 at 16:36) Reply

    All correct.

  3. iris (Posted on 5-6-2018 at 08:26) Reply


  4. Azar (Posted on 4-24-2020 at 09:45) Reply

    My body has pain.i suffer from pain

    1. Kyi Lae Khin (Posted on 2-12-2022 at 23:19) Reply


  5. Kyaw Zin Hein (Posted on 8-30-2021 at 05:04) Reply

    Pain come or Pain comes
    Which one correct

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 8-30-2021 at 14:27) Reply


  6. MayZon (Posted on 2-12-2022 at 16:26) Reply


  7. JSO (Posted on 4-9-2023 at 09:55) Reply

    wow! perfect!

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