It likely comes as little surprise that many of the entries in this Grammar 101 series discuss homophones. These are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. You’ve got peer and pier, for example, or grisly and grizzly. Today, we’re tackling a similar conundrum with “patience” and “patients.” Do you know when to use which word?

As mentioned, a big part of the confusion has to do with the fact that both “patience” and “patients” are effectively pronounced exactly the same way. They also have tangentially related definitions, partly because the word “patients” can be used both as an adjective and as a noun.

Patient (singular, noun) refers to a person who is receiving some sort of medical treatment. If you are going to see a doctor, you are his/her patient. A dentist has many patients. A therapist treats his/her patients too. Depending on context, the word “patient” can also refer to a person who is sick, as might be the case with a “cancer patient,” even if this individually is not actively receiving treatment at this particular moment in time.

The thing is that the word “patient” is also used as an adjective to describe someone who is tolerant of delays, waiting or problems. When you go to the DMV to renew your driver’s license, you need to patient as you wait your turn. Parents need to be especially patient when dealing with toddler temper tantrums.

Patience, in effect, is the noun form of the adjective “patient” and this has likely led to a lot of confusion. Whereas “patient” is used to describe someone who is tolerant of waiting, “patience” is the capacity or ability to tolerate waiting. Put another way, a patient person has patience.


It’s unlikely that you will confuse the singular noun form of “patient” and if you want to describe someone who can put up with delays without getting angry, you can use “patient” as an adjective. Jerry is very patient. This can also be transformed into an adverb to describe an action: George is waiting patiently for the train.

To distinguish between “patients” and “patience” more easily, use this handy trick. “Patients” has an “s” at the end of it to signify a plural. From this, you can remember that the word refers to multiple people. It refers to the individuals themselves. “Patience” has the letter “e” at the end of it, just like the word “have.” Patience is a quality or characteristic that people have.

So, putting it all together…

You’ll need patience as there are many other patients in the waiting room. Just be patient; it’ll be your turn soon.