Are You Diagnosed With A Disease Or With Tests And Analysis?

Veterinarian_diagnoses_catWhile editing a letter as part of a client’s application to veterinary school, I encountered the word diagnose.

We all use or hear diagnose at some point in our lives, whether it relates to our own health or that of a family member, friend, work colleague — or a pet.

Does a physician or veterinarian diagnose a patient or a disease? In other words, which do you say:

“He was diagnosed with pneumonia.”
“He was diagnosed as having pneumonia.”

Or might you say, “X-rays were used to diagnose his pneumonia”?

It’s a fine line, but there is a grammatical difference.

To diagnose (verb) is defined as recognizing or identifying a disease through signs and symptoms. A physician might examine the patient, have the patient describe symptoms, and assess X-rays or the results of blood or other lab tests. All contribute to a doctor’s ability to make a diagnosis (noun).

Here are examples of how diagnose is used as a verb:

An electrocardiogram is used in diagnosing heart disease.
Thousands of cases of influenza are diagnosed every year.
The inexperienced physician was unable to diagnose the illness.

Here are examples of how diagnosis is used as a noun:

Her pneumonia diagnosis did not come as a surprise.
The diagnosis of measles frightened the child’s mother.
He disagreed with his doctor’s diagnosis and sought a second opinion.

The examples that follow further show the difference between how the verb diagnose and the noun diagnosis are correctly used:

Wrong: He was diagnosed with heart disease.
(Heart disease was not used as a diagnostic tool.)
Right: Blood tests contributed to his diagnosis of heart disease.

Wrong: She was diagnosed with dyslexia when she turned 11.
(Dyslexia was not used to formulate a diagnosis; it was the outcome.)
Right: Tests contributed to a dyslexia diagnosis when she turned 11.

Wrong: When she was diagnosed with cancer, her life changed.
(Cancer was not used to reach a diagnosis.)
Right: Tests confirmed her cancer diagnosis, which changed her life.
Right: Tests confirmed that she has cancer, which has changed her life.

Doctors, whether they treat humans or animals, have many tools for diagnosing illness. People have many options for expressing themselves. Saying diagnosed with a disease or illness likely will not impair understanding, but it’s not a precise way to express how illness is determined.

I think words and their sequence matter. Do you?

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “Are You Diagnosed With A Disease Or With Tests And Analysis?

  1. Avatarmorst

    clearly, the problem here is the word WITH.


    For better or worse, I feel like this distinction will probably get lost in the future.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Yes, the problem with “diagnosed with” indeed is “with.” 😉 And I agree that the distinction will eventually get lost, if it hasn’t already. Yet some of us will continue to recognize the difference, which to many might seem too subtle to matter. Our English language is fascinating — and sometimes frustrating — because of these nuances. I find them fascinating!

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