It's that time of year, you're surrounded by sick people.

Parents tell you their child hasn't been able to shake off that nasty flu for over a week. A colleague comes to work looking worse for wear, she doesn't take off her scarf or her gloves all day, and you can tell she is shivering.

And this morning, you feel odd. You have a dry chesty cough. You almost feel you have a cold or a fever but not quite.

Is there an idiom or phrase that means you are getting sick? I don't want to say I am ill, or I have the flu over the phone because you can't tell by my voice, but I'm definitely feeling "off".

I'm sorry I can't come for dinner tonight because ________

  • 2
    some people only care about providing a good answer as fast as possible and don't care about reputation. i've always felt that if stackexchange REALLY didn't like answers in comments, they would actually do something about it. until then, expect users to keep doing it because they can. i see nothing wrong with it. rep has never meant anything to me on these sites.
    – user428517
    Dec 20, 2016 at 21:33
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    i think my comment was prompted by seeing comments like yours on practically every single question on SE sites. if users consistently do something that mods don't like, maybe the UX is bad.
    – user428517
    Dec 20, 2016 at 22:52
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    @sgroves Comments really only help the asker. Plus, comments are liable to be purged. On the other hand, answers, when they are good answers to good questions, help many future visitors. This is the whole point of the site. So, while we don't object to someone giving a solution in a comment, we strongly wish that someone would put it in an answer.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 22, 2016 at 17:03
  • that is all quite true.
    – user428517
    Dec 22, 2016 at 17:09
  • The cherry-picking deletion of comments, and answers in comments means the "conversation" above will make no sense to newcomers, or visitors reading this.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 27, 2016 at 9:34

14 Answers 14


"come down with something"

As defined by the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary:

to catch or show signs of an illness

To complete your sentence: I'm sorry I can't come for dinner tonight because I am coming down with something

Use the tenses of "come" to suit your needs...

  • OR: I feel like I'm coming down with something. Feb 4, 2018 at 22:38

I'm feeling under the weather

Is a phrase I tend to hear a lot.

Definition in the Cambridge dictionary

  • OR: I'm under the weather. Feb 4, 2018 at 22:38

"fighting off a bug"

I'm sorry I can't come for dinner tonight; I'm fighting off a bug.

It suggests that you have in fact caught something, has the implication that you may be infectious, but that you haven't yet succumbed to the infection.


I can't come for dinner tonight because I feel (a bug|a cold|the flu) coming on.

This is a commonly used expression (e.g. this Google result) however, I can't seem to find an authoritative reference to the usage of the expression. Going between the OED and Dictionary.com, it seems that the phrase is using two slang terms together; bug to mean the illness, and coming on to mean developing.

I know I have heard it and used it since I was young, but I'm surprised that it hasn't been authoritatively defined yet.



I think I caught a bug/cold/the flu


I think I've picked up a bug

In this type of situation, the Present Perfect tense is more commonly used in British English than in American English

Longman Dictionary

1. informal an illness that people catch very easily from each other but is not very serious
catch/pick up/get a bug

Another common expression, listed in Cambridge Dictionary, is off-colour. It means you're not feeling your normal self, I'd say this is very similar to feeling under the weather which was posted by @toniedzwiedz

I'm feeling a bit off-colour today.

informal slightly ill:
I'm feeling a bit off-colour today.

The usage of off-colour to describe one's health, is decidedly a BrEng one. It's often used with the verb feel

e.g. ‘To make matters worse, I'd started to develop what I thought was a bit of a cold by Saturday evening so I was feeling decidedly grumpy and off-colour.’

Interesting fact, it dates back to 1858 to describe the colo(u)r of gems, but by 1867 its meaning had extended to that of risqué, slightly obscene, and questionable taste in AmEng.(source)

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    I'd strongly recommend against "off-colo[u]r." In American English, this phase almost always means "indecent or inappropriate" (humor). Maybe this connotation isn't as strong elsewhere, but "I'm feeling a bit off-colour" definitely conveys the wrong message to me.
    – zourtney
    Dec 21, 2016 at 23:16

The accepted answer was great, but I don't know why no one mentioned Go down with something which is mostly British.

To become ill with a particular illness.

So, I think I'm going down with something.

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    Something about "I'm going down with something" doesn't scan right with me. In the present tense, I think I'd only use "coming". "Gone down with" does work in the past though, as per the example in your link. (I'm British if that matters to you.)
    – AndyT
    Dec 22, 2016 at 15:21
  • Of course it does. But if you just google "I'm going down with flu", you'll see how many results there are.
    – haha
    Dec 22, 2016 at 15:33

I'm feeling poorly...maybe the proper way to use it is more when you are actually sick, but I often use it in that in-between state of not healthy but also not completely sick.

I'm feeling a bit under the weather...same as above.

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    one very minor point: "Feeling poorly" or "she is poorly" has a more British and/or Southern US flavor, though it would be generally understood elsewhere.
    – Yorik
    Dec 20, 2016 at 17:41

How about indisposed?


indisposed: slightly unwell

Your example:

I'm sorry I can't come for dinner tonight because I'm indisposed.

Indisposed has the advantage of describing a condition the lies between feeling well and actually being sick, perhaps a harbinger of an incipient illness.

  • I don't know why I didn't upvote this at the time. Must have missed it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 19, 2017 at 21:01
  • @Mari-LouA Greetings. I can accept that. Apr 20, 2017 at 2:51

I would usually say I am sickening for a cold (or whatever other ailment):-

  1. (Pathology) (often foll by: for) to show symptoms (of an illness)

Collins English Dictionary via the Free Dictionary

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    Is that something of an old-fashioned saying? I've never heard or read it used ... it sounds a bit 'off' to my (30-something, Australian) ear. If I was going to use 'sickening', my instinct would be to use 'with' instead of 'for'...
    – Beejamin
    Dec 22, 2016 at 15:31

"I am starting to feel sick."

It's accurate, it says that you feel the signs of oncoming sickness but are not yet incapacitated by fever, pain, nausea, and so on.

In response to OP's comment asking for one phrase or idiom: I'm not sure there is any one idiomatic phrase, but just variations based on "getting" or "starting" or "feeling" the onset of symptoms.

People who like to turn a phrase might say "I'm feeling pre-fluish" or "I have an incipient cold."

As to common usage, I think the most common phrasing is "I think I'm getting sick" or even "I think I am sick" -- "think" being the key to mean that I don't have clear symptoms (like a fever measured with a thermometer) at this time

Or, as others have mentioned, it's very common to use the phrasing "coming down with something."

  • If you edit your answer, and include your recent observation, which are good, it's +1 from me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 22, 2016 at 14:04
  • I really like pre-fluish do you have any references?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 22, 2016 at 15:40
  • I came up with that off the top of my head as an example of non-common expression -- sorry it's an unsourced phrase, but now I might have to google it to find any citations. And it turns out it's used in an ebook called the Modern Woman's Herbal:
    – user8356
    Dec 22, 2016 at 15:43
  • It's perfectly understandable on its own, so don't worry.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 22, 2016 at 15:45
  • This may be different, US/UK, but in the UK, "feeling sick" implies you are about to vomit, not that you are generally unwell.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 23, 2016 at 8:48

"I'm afraid I might be contagious" puts a serious edge on your statement and also reinforces the idea that (for colds and flu at least) you are most contagious before you are well into the sickness (3 or 4 days after the initial exposure,) and it avoids a false claim that you have heavy symptoms at present.


I'm sorry I can't come for dinner tonight - I've got the early symptoms of the flu.


"I'm having symptoms" is a bit less definitive than "I am sick"...extra rest and garlic when one "has symptoms" may prevent "being sick". It may also be a better excuse as the early stages may be more contagious.


It would be more correct, I think, to consider sickness as a binary state - either you are sick (with or without symptoms) or you are not. My suggestion then would be to address the symptoms... "I am feeling congested" or "I think I am developing a fever".

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