Yesterday my (also non Japanese) friend had a headache and we had to buy medicine in Japanese.

So I looked up how to say "headache" and add it to my vocabulary.

I found the word 頭痛{ずつう} and I suppose it could be used in sentences like 頭痛がある

But when I told my friend about 頭痛 he said "no that's not right." He said it's 頭{あたま}が痛{いた}い so you would make a sentence like 頭が痛いだ.

Obviously they both use the same characters but in different ways. Is the second sentence more colloquial? Is 頭痛 more technical? Are they both just as common?


2 Answers 2


I think the colloquial way (and most common way) is:


Or even more colloquially dropping が:


Please note that 痛い is an i-adjective so 「頭が痛いだ。」 is not correct.

This can be used for other body parts too.

I think that the confusion is because in English there are words for some of the "aches" which you often use, like "headache" or "stomach ache". You use them to say "I have a headache". You don't say "I have a leg pain" though. Direct translation of constructions does't usually work that well.

  • Would you use 頭痛 in cases like "I need to buy medicine for my friend's headache"? I think this term appeared on the medicine box, but technical terms are expected there. Apr 16, 2014 at 1:52
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    I think it is more technical/formal, I think. You could use 頭痛薬 to describe the medicine for headache.
    – Szymon
    Apr 16, 2014 at 3:27
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    'Would you use 頭痛 in cases like "I need to buy medicine for my friend's headache"?' >>> Yes, you can say かぜ薬買ってくるように頼まれたんですけど、頭痛によく効くやつどれですか。
    – user1016
    Apr 16, 2014 at 6:23
  • @Szymon: Hi. I was taught that saying 頭が痛い sounds strange. If you explain to someone that you have a headache then, unless you are Dr Spock, the natural expression is 頭が痛いの(です)because that is how you explain (ie ~のです)and a full explanation needs to convey the pain to get taken seriously(?)
    – Tim
    Apr 16, 2014 at 14:30

You have a couple choices:

  1. 頭が痛い   (not ×頭が痛いだ)
  2. 頭痛がする

I basically agree with Szymon's answer that 頭が痛い is more colloquial and all-around more common. You can use either phrase, though. (You can make it more colloquial yet by omitting the particle が.)

Adding だ to adjectives like 痛い is nonstandard.

To make these more polite, use 頭が痛いです or 頭痛がします.

  • 1
    What's the logic behind using します instead of ある? Is it because ache in 頭痛 is an action rather than a state?
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 16, 2014 at 2:01
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    Thanks for asking @helix because I wondered the same thing. It might even be worth a question all its own, how to know when a given new noun should take shimasu/suru vs arimasu/aru. Apr 16, 2014 at 2:06
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    I'm guessing 頭痛【ずつう】ある might be acceptable colloquially, as I recall being taught it that way by a Japanese coworker a long time ago. Also, interestingly enough, autocomplete for my IME suggested 頭痛薬【ずつうやく】, so in response to the other question in the comment below, it does appear to be what you would use at a drug store.
    – Kaji
    Apr 16, 2014 at 2:07
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    @Kaji Oh, my mistake. I'll remove the × but I'll still recommend saying する instead. (I think it's at least more common.)
    – user1478
    Apr 16, 2014 at 2:15
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    I think doctors/nurses/pharmacists often ask to their patients like 頭痛は/吐き気は/痛みは/(お)熱はありますか?/ ~~ないですか?etc but you normally don't say 頭痛(が)ある。 to say 頭が痛い。/頭痛がする。
    – user1016
    Apr 16, 2014 at 8:17

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