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Pandemics and epidemics

A chicken

A question from Yumi in Japan:
Hi, I would like to know about the difference between 'epidemic' and 'pandemic', related to the bird flu.


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Catherine Walter answers:
Yumi, that's a very topical question. We hope that we won't be talking too much about pandemics in the next few months. The answer is actually very simple.

'Epidemic' is the word that we use when we're talking about a large number of people or animals in a certain place that are affected by disease or illness. 'Pandemic' is the word we use when almost all the people and animals in a certain place are affected by a disease or illness. And that's the short answer.

But that little 'pan-' prefix is something that you might want to remember because we often use it to mean 'all'. So people make up new words by putting 'pan-' in front of something ? you might hear about a 'pan-Asian' conference, for example.

So don't forget 'pan-', but let's hope we can forget the pandemic. Thank you.

Catherine Walter is the Course Leader of the MA in Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at the Institute of Education, University of London, where she also investigates second language reading comprehension and supervises doctoral students. She is the co-author with Michael Swan of The Good Grammar Book and How English Works.


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