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Chronic vs. Acute

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  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips

As we age, our bodies start to wear out, and we start to have a variety of medical problems. These problems usually involve pain of some kind. When we talk to our doctors, we use many different terms to help us describe the nature of our problems, including where it hurts, and how badly. Two of the most useful options in this endeavor are acute and chronic. They can both be used to describe characteristics of pain, but they actually mean different things. Continue reading to learn what these words mean, so you can avoid giving your doctor false information on your next visit.

In this article, I will compare acute vs. chronic. I will include example sentences for each of these words to demonstrate how to use them effectively. Plus, I will show you a useful trick to remember how to decide whether acute or chronic is more appropriate in a given context.


The word chronic originated from late Middle English: from French chronique, via Latin from Greek khronikos ‘of time’, from khronos ‘time’. The word acute originated from late Middle English (describing a disease or its symptoms): from Latin acutus, past participle of acuere ‘sharpen’, from acus ‘needle’.

Chronic as adjective:

The word chronic is used as an adjective which aids the noun and means (of an illness) persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.

My uncle has chronic bronchitis.

In British English, chronic means something of a very poor quality.

The film was absolutely chronic.

Acute as adjective:

Acute is also used as an adjective which means (of an unpleasant or unwelcome situation or phenomenon) present or experienced to a severe or intense degree.

An acute housing shortage.

Acute also means having or showing a perceptive understanding or insight; shrewd.

An acute awareness of changing fashions.


If so, this event provides further proof of France’s acute vulnerability to Islamist terrorism. (The Telegraph)

A review of security arrangements is being carried out at an acute psychiatric unit located on the grounds of one of the busiest hospitals in the country, after the HSE confirmed three patients left the facility in the space of one month. (The Irish Times)

This is a moment of acute risk for America. (The Australian)

While the IOM notes common uses of diagnostic studies and interventions are not backed by evidence-based medicine to manage chronic pain, “the rampant use of opioids to treat chronic pain stands out as the lease defensible and most harmful of our maltreatments,” wrote Dr. Clauw. (Becker’s Hospital Review)

Chronic wasting disease has been introduced to Southwest Colorado – along with questions about where the disease might spread next. (The Durango Herald)

She and Meg Crocker-Curtis, director of the Penobscot Valley Humane Society shelter of Lincoln, say that abandoned cats and dogs are a chronic problem in the Lincoln Lakes region. (The Bangor Daily News)

Chronic or acute:

Acute and chronic are both adjectives that can be used to describe types of pain. Acute means intense. Chronic means recurring. Something can be both acute and chronic, like many illnesses and conditions. Chronic has taken on several meanings, but in formal writing, it should only be used for medical contexts. Acute shares a T with intense, and chronic shares an R with recurring. Since these words are spelled with the same letters as their synonyms, it should be easy to remember when to use each.

Don’t forget, you can review this article any time you need help choosing chronic or acute.


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