Patience and Patients

Commonly Confused Words

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The words patience and patients are homophones: they sound the same but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun patience refers to the ability to wait or endure hardship for a long time without becoming upset.

The noun patients is the plural form of patient--someone who receives medical care.

Examples

  • One thing a mother must always save for a rainy day is patience.
  • "The powdery flakes of snow drifted cautiously downward, were lost in the dark branches of the tree, on the road where the horse stood, head down in patience."
    (Robert Penn Warren, "Christmas Gift." The Virginia Quarterly Review, 1938)
  • Growing numbers of patients are now sharing their medical data online.
  • "[I]n the dark hours, the whispering and the quickly stilled clatter of glasses and basins, the moans of patients whose morphine was wearing off, the soft squeak of a stretcher as it rolled past on its way from the emergency ward — these suggested agony and death."
    (Jean Stafford, "The Interior Castle." Partisan Review, 1947)

Usage Notes

"Patience/Patients. One thing about the last pair of homonyms that is both interesting and boring is that you can use the nce/nts pattern to find other homonyms. For instance: independence/independents, presence/presents, innocence/innocents. It's interesting because the pattern makes homonyms seem even more worthwhile, but it's boring because the pattern also makes finding new homonym pairs too easy."
(Anne M. Martin, Rain Reign. Feiwel, 2014)

Idiom Alert

The expressions "the patience of Job" and "the patience of a saint" both mean a great amount of patience.

"The patience of Job is a household phrase in the English language," notes H.L. Ginsberg. "Yet Job's patience is obvious only in the first two of the 42 chapters which the book of Job [in the Bible] contains" ("Job the Patient and Job the Impatient," 1967).
- "Look, ah, Santiago, when you signed up to be an officer, it means you signed up to deal with other people's problems.

 And that means you need the patience of Job. Nobody thanks you. Everybody argues with you. You need to develop thicker skin.”
(Lis Weihl with April Henry, Eyes of Justice. Thomas Nelson, 2012)

- "The patience of a saint. A curious phrase. Why are saints so renowned for their patience? Whatever. He's got that amount of patience. He will wait here for as long as it takes."
(David Jackson, A Tapping at My Door, 2015)

Practice

(a) The crisis in emergency care is taking its toll on doctors, nurses, and _____.

(b) "Now look, Peggy. I'm running out of money and I'm running out of _____. Either you are going to marry me or not, and I want to know right now."
(Barry Goldwater, quoted by John W. Dean in Pure Goldwater. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
 

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Answers to Practice Exercises:

(a) The crisis in emergency care is taking its toll on doctors, nurses, and patients.

(b) "Now look, Peggy. I'm running out of money and I'm running out of patience. Either you are going to marry me or not, and I want to know right now."
(Barry Goldwater, quoted by John W. Dean in Pure Goldwater. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)