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Is It “Hunger Pangs” Or “Hunger Pains”?

Close-up of serving food to a group, teal filter

You don’t hear the word pangs too often. When you do, it’s often in specific contexts, and after certain words, especially birth and hunger.

But what is a pang, exactly? And is it different from a pain? In this article, we’ll satisfy your hunger for answers to those questions and to the question of whether the proper phrase is hunger pangs or hunger pains.

Quick summary

Hunger pangs means sharp or sudden sensations of hunger—often painful ones. The phrase hunger pains is also commonly used to mean the same thing. In some cases, this is likely because hunger pangs has been misheard as hunger pains. Still, both are acceptable. However, because hunger pains is the more straightforward phrase, it’s more likely to be used in nonliterary contexts to refer to actual pains, such as what a medical patient is experiencing.

What are hunger pangs?

A pang is a sudden, brief, or sharp sensation, often a painful one. It can be used for physical pain, or it can be used to describe an emotional sensation, as in pangs of remorse.

Pang is perhaps most commonly used in the phrases birth pangs (which can be used both literally and figuratively) and hunger pangs. Hunger pangs is usually used literally to refer to sudden or sharp sensations of hunger—that gnawing sensation you get when your stomach is “growling.”

Is it hunger pangs or pains?

Both hunger pangs and hunger pains are commonly used to refer to sensations of hunger. Because the word pangs is unfamiliar to some people, many might hear the phrase hunger pangs as hunger pains, especially since they usually mean the same thing. Still, both are perfectly acceptable.

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However, there may be a slight distinction in some situations that calls for one phrase to be used instead of the other. For example, hunger pangs is more often used in more literary ways, while hunger pains may be reserved to refer to actual pains, such as cramps that occur due to malnourishment. Because the word pangs is less familiar, it might not be appropriate to use in a situation that calls for straightforwardness and clarity, such as a doctor or nurse recording a patient’s symptoms.

You might also see hunger pangs phrased as pangs of hunger. In contrast, it’s unlikely for someone to say pains of hunger.

Examples of hunger pangs and hunger pains used in a sentence

Here are some example sentences that show how hunger pangs and hunger pains can often be used interchangeably, though not always.

 

  • It was near dinner time, and the hunger pangs/hunger pains were starting to interfere with my concentration.
  • Six hours into the hike, hunger pangs/hunger pains began to set in.
  • The patient reported sharp hunger pains despite having eaten recently.

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