This guy over here... he keeps coughing. I want to say something like "bless you" to express the I-feel-for-ya-man kind of sympathy token, but I've got nothing. No good way to say it. "Nice coughing" doesn't seem right.

  • 3
    I sometimes say "bless you" even if it's a cough.
    – Tim Ward
    Feb 3, 2016 at 18:16
  • 4
    My spouse, who used to be in charge of infection control at an area hospital, is fond of pointing out that a sneeze can spread its bacterial payload out to 40 meters. At that, even I (a non-scientist Yankee) am impressed. Maybe we should be saying "God bless us!" instead.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 3, 2016 at 19:10
  • Offer him a cup of water.
    – ab2
    Feb 3, 2016 at 23:16
  • 5
    Your soul doesn't leave your body when you cough, only when you sneeze.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 3, 2016 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


There is not an equivalent expression.

The all-seeing eye of Wikipedia turns to the subject, and reveals (with multiple citations)

The practice of blessing someone who sneezes, dating as far back as at least AD 77, however is far older than most specific explanations can account for.[9] Some have offered an explanation suggesting that people once held the folk belief that a person's soul could be thrown from their body when they sneezed,[9] that sneezing otherwise opened the body to invasion by the Devil or evil spirits,[10][11] or that sneezing was the body's effort to force out an invading evil presence.[9] In these cases, "God bless you" or "bless you" is used as a sort of shield against evil.

Apparently coughing opens no such window to the soul - merely to the lower respiratory tract.

If my colleague were so seized, I might offer a drink of water, a lozenge, or - in extremis - a call to Emergency Services. Verbally, "Are you OK, pal?" might suffice.


Usually I hear the phrase "all right?" or something similar, if someone's coughing a lot. Informally phrased, with nonverbal cues like a sympathetic smile or expression, gentle tone, or even a bit of humor, it means pretty much what you said - acknowledging the cough (or other obvious, obviously minor problem), offering sympathy.

Although it is generally meant as sympathy, asking like this also leaves an opening for the person being asked to acknowledge any problems or make any requests, if they are actually in distress - a nice bonus, and one reason for choosing to use it in such situations.

If someone is actually concerned, that is generally shown by asking more formally, using a concerned or inquisitive tone - "Are you alright?" or "Are you ok?", asking if they need something or offering it like "Need a glass of water?", or asking further questions. That is usually a more specific question - that is, actually asking after the person, checking in on what they need, if they seem in actual distress.

It's not quite the same thing as "bless you", and certainly not, hm, formally equivalent - I haven't seen it written down or spoken about as a response to coughing, but it does serve the same purpose, and when I've heard it used or used it myself, it has not been misunderstood.

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