Develop/have/suffer from an illness: What is the correct collocation?

The use of expressions in the technical or specialized language is not restricted to one specific field. Many expressions and terms that arise in a specific field of knowledge then are taken by another one. Even most of the specialised languages come from the general language. This happens because language is not a closed system. For that reason, words have more than one meaning and can be used in different contexts.       

In this article, I want to talk about three verbs that usually go with the noun illness making up collocations. These verbs are develop, have, and suffer. The aim is not to evaluate the correctness of each collocation, but to distinguish the contexts in which they are used within the field of medicine. 

Develop/have/ suffer from an illness?

As you have already noted, these three verbs are very common in the general language and they are also used in different fields. So, answering the question, the three verbs are highly used in the field of medicine forming collocations, in this case, with the term illness and all of them are correct. Now, let’s see when we have to use these collocations. 

Collocation 1: develop an illness

The following image shows the results got from WriteBetter. 

C:\Users\Usuario\Desktop\Write Better\Technical language\Illness\develop an illness.png

These are some of the contexts taken from WriteBetter. 

  • When first infected, a person can develop an illness which can be mild, with few or no symptoms, or an illness that is serious, requiring hospitalization and sometimes leading to liver failure.
  • Compared with non-smokers, smokers reported higher perceived vulnerability to develop an illness due to tobacco and a higher level of worry about this.
  • A 52 -year-old man developed an illness that lasted for 2 years until its fatal termination.
  • The patient used this product as a fungicide and developed a progressive illness with acute renal failure.

In the examples analysed, we observe that the collocation develop an illness is mainly used to describe a non-specified illness or a group of symptoms that might belong to an illness that has not been diagnosed yet. The collocation is also used when there is a possibility for an illness to appear in case of certain factors boost its emergence.


Collocation 2: have an illness

The second image shows the results got from WriteBetter, which illustrates the contexts with the collocation have an illness.  

C:\Users\Usuario\Desktop\Write Better\Technical language\Illness\have an illness.png

Let’s check the examples taken from the software.  

  • People with mental illness have an illness like any other.
  • Tertiary prevention consists of helping people who have an illness to manage their symptoms.
  • We present a case of a patient having a terminal illness to illustrate our concerns about the importance of guidance.
  • Hospice care is about quality of life at a time when a person has an illness for which curative measures are no longer possible, and for which a physician has determined the patient has a life expectancy of about six months or less, a hospice program can support the process of death and dying in a compassionate way.

The examples show that the collocation have an illness, which includes the indefinite article a/an, is mainly used when the name of a specific illness is not mentioned but is clear that the person or patient is ill, presents symptoms of an illness, and needs medical care.   

Collocation 3: suffer from an illness 


The third image shows the results that illustrate the contexts with the collocation suffer from an illness.  

C:\Users\Usuario\Desktop\Write Better\Technical language\Illness\suffer from an illness.png

Let’s check the examples taken from the software.  

  • Abortion can be justified if the abortion is medically advisable by the treating doctor, such as pregnant woman who suffer from an illness and, to save the lives of these women, then abortion must be invalidated pursuant to law No. 36 of 2009 on the Health of Article 75. 
  • Consumer consultants are people who have suffered from a mental illness requiring treatment in a public facility.
  • Neither the controls, nor their first degree relatives, suffered from a psychotic illness.

The analysed contexts show that the collocation suffer from an illness is used when the illness is serious, debilitating, and chronic. In these examples, the collocation expresses the seriousness of an illness that affects a person, not the possibility to have it.  

As mentioned before, the three collocations are correct and they are very common in the context of medicine, but it is necessary to clarify the sense that each one of them expresses, especially when we think they are interchangeable.


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