Patience is the ability to endure a long wait calmly or deal with annoying problems without frustration. Many of the world’s greatest thinkers have emphasized the importance of patience. For Aristotle, patience was bitter but the fruit it bore was sweet. For Tolstoy, it was one of the two most powerful warriors, with the other being time. For Lao Tzu, it was one of the three greatest treasures to have, along with compassion and simplicity.
Since patience is a virtue that received praise from around the world and through the ages, we should all strive to be patient. Or should we be trying to have patience? Or maybe be patience? How about be patients? There’s room for confusion here, so let’s make this simple:
You can be patient, because patient is an adjective.
You can have patience, because patience is a noun.
You can be patience personified, but it’s not very easy to achieve.
You can’t have patient. Patients is the plural of the noun patient, a person who is receiving medical attention, and it’s here only because it sounds sort of like patience.
Patient and how to use it (and not confuse it)
Patient (PAY-shunt) is an adjective we use to describe someone who is not hasty, who can bear things calmly, or who remains unwavering when faced with adversity:
“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
—A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
“There are as many strategies to combat math difficulty as there are children. Be patient with your child, and yourself, while you figure out what works.”
—The Washington Post
“ECB officials have urged investors to be patient and wait for the full impact of their latest policy measures to unfold.”
—The Wall Street Journal
There is also the noun patient, which means someone who is not well and needs medical help. Patient the noun and patient the adjective are homonyms, which causes some people to think that you can’t say be patient when you’re urging someone to wait calmly, because you’d actually be telling them to get medical treatment. This is, of course, false—you can be a patient when you’re sick, but you need to be patient before you get better.
Patience and how to use it (and not confuse it)
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
“E-commerce giant Alibaba has urged investors to have patience with newer initiatives after the company posted lower-than-expected profit growth in its fiscal fourth quarter, despite a 39 per cent jump in revenue.”
And because patience is something you can have, it’s also something you can lose:
“It is already a long story; yet it seems as if it were hardly commenced. Is it any wonder if we at last grow distrustful, lose patience, and turn impatiently away?”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
“Some readers will lose patience with all the technical details about orbits and spaceflight, but for me, it’s an engrossing and thought-provoking story.”
—The New York Times