Do You Need the Article a/an Before ‘Pain’?

In many situations, you can use both “pain” or “a pain” to speak about the unpleasant physical sensation caused by injury or illness.

In many situations, you can use both “pain” or “a pain” to speak about the unpleasant physical sensation caused by injury or illness.

I have a slight pain.

I have slight pain.

When referring to the feeling of being extremely upset or unhappy, we do not normally use the indefinite article with this word.

The incident caused me great pain.

1. ‘Pain’ vs. ‘a Pain’

The noun “pain” can be both countable and uncountable in English; thus, you can say:

I have pain in the muscles.

I have a pain in the muscles.

However, the more specific or precise you are to describe your pain (in terms of intensity, location, frequency, etc.), the more likely you will use the indefinite article a/an.

I have an excruciating pain above my waist.

My child has a terrible pain in his stomach.

You can omit the article to be less specific.

Are you suffering from pain?

Omit the article to talk about this symptom in a general sense.

This therapy can be used to treat many acute conditions causing pain.

Abdominal pain can be caused by a wide range of conditions.

To list a series of symptoms, we commonly omit the indefinite article "a".

I have fever, abdominal pain, and vomiting.

His symptoms included sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, and muscle pain.

Follow the same convention with the term migraine.

2. Other Meanings of ‘Pain’

We can also use "pain" to describe an emotional or mental suffering. In such a situation, the word “pain” is uncountable, and we should not include the indefinite article “a”.

My sister was in great pain after the death of her mother.

But you may use other determiners (the, a lot of, this, etc.) to identify or quantify the noun.

The pain of being separated from their children was terrible.

I had to go through a lot of pain to achieve my goals.

My wife had no idea of the pain she had inflicted on me.

Informally, you can say that something or someone "is a pain" (or "is a pain in the neck") when they are a nuisance or cause trouble for you.

That girl is such a pain. I don't want to go out with her again.

With his constant complaining, Robert is a pain in the neck.

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