Patience vs. Patients: What’s the Difference?

English has a lot on confusing words in its ranks: words that are spelled alike; words that sound alike; words that have similar meanings. Today I want to talk about the difference between the two words patience and patients. These words, despite having different meanings altogether, are spelled closely to one another and are what is known as homophones.

In this post, I want to go over their definitions, the functions they have in sentences, and give you a few tips to remember how to use them correctly. After reading this post, you won’t ever mix up patience vs. patients again.

When to Use Patience

patients or patience meaningPatience is a noun and is defined as, “the capacity, quality, or fact of being patient.” Now I know what you’re thinking. This doesn’t help us out very much because this definition is just citing “patient” and not telling us what the root word means.

For that we’ll have to look at the word “patient” itself. Patient, in this sense, is an adjective and is defined as, “able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” Now that we have that cleared up, let’s look at some examples,

  • She showed great patience despite the continual delays.
  • Her father was very patient as she asked him nonstop questions.
  • Be patient, there is someone out there for you too.

What makes patience tricky is that its adjective form “patient” is a homonym. A homonym is a word that is spelled and pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. So not only are patience and patients homophones, but patient and patient are homonyms. (See our full page here for a more in depth explanation of these homonyms/homophones.)

When to Use Patients

difference of patient and patiencePatients is the plural form of patient and, in this sense, is defined as, “a person receiving or schedule to receive medical treatment.” For example,

  • The doctor is very busy with a booked schedule of patients.
  • The patients at the hospital are in need or care.

As I said above, “patient” can sometimes be tricky because it has two different meanings. A good way to keep them apart in your mind is that “patient” as a character trait, i.e., adjective, cannot have an “s” after it. Only the sense of “patient” that refers to humans can have an “s” after it.

Remember the Difference

Aside from what was just mentioned, there is another good way to keep patients vs. patience apart in your mind.

Patience is a character trait. Both of these words have “c’s” in them.

Patients, on the other hand, refers to people. A patient to a doctor is very similar to what a lawyer might call a client. Both of these words refer to people, and they both end in “ient.”

Summary

Do I use patience or patients? Well, of course, that depends. While these words all sound the same and, in some cases are spelled the same, it’s important to use patients vs. patience properly in our writing to maintain clarity.

Patience is a noun and is a human character trait. Its adjective form is patient.

Patients is the plural form of patient. They are both nouns. A patient refers to someone who is receiving medical care.

[i]
[i]