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Word of the Week: Signs vs. Symptoms

illustration of scientist looking into microscope - word of the week

Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell

Each week, Verywell explains a term from health, medicine, science, or technology.

Signs vs. Symptoms

What it meansSigns are objective things that can be seen, like a red spot on your skin or reading on a thermometer that shows you have a fever. Symptoms are subjective and describe how you feel, which includes sensations like pain and nausea.

Where it comes from: The word "sign" comes from the Latin signum, which means "marker." The term "symptom" has both Greek and Latin roots going back to the stem word sympiptein, meaning "to befall" or "happen to."

Close up of a thermometer in a white person's hand. In the background, blurred, a sick child is in bed with a hand on her forehead—like feeling for a fever.

Sasha_Suzi/Getty

Where you might see or hear it: It's helpful to understand the difference between signs and symptoms when you are talking to a medical professional. They will listen to you talk about how you feel and make note of these reports as your symptoms while observing and testing you for objective signs of a disease or condition.

When you might want to use it: If your child has a fever, you would probably start by asking them if they feel hot or cold (a subjective symptom of a fever). Then, you would use a thermometer to check their temperature (above normal would be an objective sign of a fever).

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