Humanities › English Patience vs. Patients: How to Choose the Right Word These terms sound the same, but they have very different meanings Share Flipboard Email Print Hero Images/Getty Images English English Grammar An Introduction to Punctuation Writing Table of Contents Expand How to Use "Patience" How to Use "Patients" Examples How to Remember the Difference The Adjective Form of "Patience" Practice Answers Sources By Richard Nordquist English and Rhetoric Professor Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester B.A., English, State University of New York Dr. Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks. our editorial process Richard Nordquist Updated April 06, 2019 The words "patience" and "patients" are homophones: They sound the same but have very different meanings. 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. There are a few tricks to learning which term to use and when. How to Use "Patience" "Patience" means having the capacity to be "patient." Someone who is "patient" is not in a hurry and can wait calmly and in a relaxed manner for what comes next. Put another way, "patience" means not being hasty or impetuous. A sentence using the word might read: He had the "patience" to wait for three hours while his son was at football practice. How to Use "Patients" Use "patients" whenever you are talking about those who have been admitted to a hospital. Additionally, individuals who are under a doctor's care or even those who visit a hospital emergency room. walk-in clinic, or doctor's office for treatment are considered to be "patients." A sentence using this term might read: Most doctors in private practice have to see many "patients" each day. Examples Using the terms in context in everyday language can give you a clearer picture of when to use "patience" or "patients." As this anonymous quote makes clear: One thing a mother must always save for a rainy day is "patience." Thinking of mothers as people who are willing to calmly endure many hardships, reminds you that, as a group, they show a lot of "patience." By contrast, individuals dealing with the health system are often "patients," as in: Growing numbers of "patients" are now sharing their medical data online. You might even combine the two terms in one sentence: Considering the state of today's health system, "patients" (those under medical care) have to show a lot of "patience" (the ability to wait calmly). How to Remember the Difference An easy mnemonic device you can use to help you remember when to use "patience" is embedded in its definition: To have "patience," you have to be able to wait calmly. Both "patience" and calmly contain the letter "c." By contrast, if you visit a doctor for treatment, you are a patient. Both a "doctor" and her "patients" contain at least one "t." The Adjective Form of "Patience" What makes "patience" tricky is that its adjective form is "patient." Because the adjective is spelled the same as the word for a person receiving medical care, the only way to distinguish between the two is by looking at the context of the sentence. For example, suppose you say: The doctor had many "patients." It's clear that in this case, "patients" refers to those receiving medical care or being seen by a doctor. By contrast, you can say: The customers were very "patient" as they waited their turn in line. It's clear that the sentence is referring to customers who had the attribute of being "patient." You can use both terms logically in a sentence: The "patients" were very "patient" as they waited for the doctor. In this case, the "patients" (individuals seeking medical care) were "patient" (showed a calm willingness to wait) to see the doctor. You can correctly use the noun form of each word and say essentially the same thing: The "patients" showed great "patience" as they waited to be seen by the doctor Practice To see if you understand the difference between "patience" and "patients," take this brief quiz. The crisis in emergency care is taking its toll on doctors, nurses, and _____."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") Answers The crisis in emergency care is taking its toll on doctors, nurses, and patients."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." Sources Brown, Sarah. “Difference Between.” Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects, 19 Nov. 2018.Khan, Sumaiya. “These Rainy Day Quotes Will Make You Feel Happy in an Instant." Quotabulary, Quotabulary, 4 Mar. 2018.“Patience vs. Patients: What's the Difference?” Writing Explained, 19 Apr. 2017.