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Which tense is best suited to describe sickness and pain? In the example below, what are the differences between the two usages? Which one sounds more natural?

  • My ear hurts

  • My ear is hurting

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"My ear hurts", "My ear is killing me", "There is a sharb stabbing pain in my ear", "My ear itches", "My ear is cold", "My ear is freezing", "My ear is burning" (if on fire), "My ear burns" (if it is flushed from fever or cold air), "My ear is flushed", "I have an earache", "My ear is tingling", "My ear is oozing", "My ear is infected", "There is a focal abnormality on the lower left lobe of the auricle". For all of these, an alternative would sound worse or wrong. Of course, there is the problem that writing these in text can have a different feel from speaking/hearing them. –  Mitch Jan 31 '12 at 21:08
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3 Answers

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I hear both very often. To me, "My ear is hurting" conveys an urgency, like my ear is hurting right now. I suppose it depends on the region of the world you are in as well. In the US, "My ear hurts" would be more common and natural.

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Regional lects often develop their own conventions for use of things like the progressive construction. If one intensifies the currentness with a phrase like right **now**, then the usual interpretation is of an ongoing and variable activity, so hurt becomes "active" enough for government work. Context is everything. –  John Lawler Jan 31 '12 at 15:46
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I would consider "hurt" in this context to be a stative verb, which means that "my ear hurts" is correct. To me, "my ear is hurting" sounds very unnatural.

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I saw Muhammad has choosed your answer as aprove if I am right. But now I am seeing your answer is not choosed for that. I am confused. –  Socarsky Jan 31 '12 at 18:19
    
Yes, I think Muhammad approved my answer; then later changed his mind and rescinded his approval. It happens all the time on the Stack Exchange sites; usually because someone posts a better answer. I'm not very surprised, as there are currently two answers here that are better than mine. Shoe's answer is better because he/she quotes an authoritative source; Suchi's answer is better because he/she mentions that it may depend on your region. Of course, very many answers to questions on English usage depend on your region. –  user16269 Feb 1 '12 at 4:01
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According to The Cambridge Grammar of The English Language (p170), hurt is one of the verbs which

" ... falls at the boundary between stative and dynamic: ache, hurt, itch, feel sick/well, etc. These occur equally readily in either aspect - compare *My neck aches* (where the non-progressive indicates a state) and *My neck is aching* (where the progressive suggests an activity)."
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