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After a series of pull-ups, Mr P tells me

  1. my hands are paining
  2. my hands are hurting

What is the rationale behind using paining and hurting? What is the difference? Is one of them more appropriate or is one of them totally incorrect?

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closed as general reference by tchrist, Andrew Leach, Mitch, Mark Beadles, JSBձոգչ Nov 4 '12 at 19:47

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

See oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pain. There is a distinct difference between AmE and BrE where #1 is only valid in AmE, but if we're talking AmE then that entry seems to indicate that both are possible. (In BrE pain as a verb requires an object) – Andrew Leach Nov 4 '12 at 18:33
While I agree with the closure of this question, I would staunchly defend this question on our new sister site for English Language Learners. Please consider committing to that site, to help make that community come into being. – J.R. Nov 5 '12 at 10:43
up vote 3 down vote accepted

According to the dictionaries, the verbs pain and hurt are synonymous; and in fact, either can be used in almost any context where the other is used. In contemporary American use, however, they aren't.

pain as a verb is used almost exclusively where non-physical pain is involved:

Your conduct pains your mother deeply.
His face assumed a pained look. "That's not what I meant," he whined, BUT
*His hands pained him.

Hurt, however, is used in both physical and non-physical contexts:

My head hurts.
Your conduct hurts your mother deeply.

In my experience (although, again, the dictionaries say otherwise), pain is never used intransitively in American use:

My hands hurt, BUT
*My hands pain.

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Pain can be used as a verb in this way, when it means, in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition, ‘Of a limb, joint, etc.: to ache, be painful.’ It is, however, colloquial, and not heard very often. It may be a feature of Indian English, but in most contexts such as the one you describe, hurt is the verb to use.

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+1 Having grown up in the US and had the pleasure to have many Indian-born friends, I would never say "my hands are paining" except when I wanted to sound like a chap from India! :) – Fuhrmanator Nov 4 '12 at 18:55
Thank you. That confirms my suspicion. – Barrie England Nov 4 '12 at 18:57

Both paining and hurting are present participles; thus, grammatically, these are interchangeable.

The meanings of these words as verbs are similar.

  • pain: to hurt, to cause pain (n.)
  • hurt: to be painful, to cause pain (n.)

If this clause is intended to imply that your hands are causing pain to someone else (not likely), then these words are interchangeable. However, this usage would generally require an object in order to make sense.

In the more likely scenario if the implication that your hands are painful or causing a sensation of pain in the hand-bearer, then hurt would be used intransitively and pain transitively.

The verb is most likely intransitive here (we can't know without context), in which case "My hands are hurting" would be more correct.

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