“疼” (téng) and “痛” (tòng) both carry the meanings of “ache,” “pain,” “suffer pain,” and “be sore.” They are generally used with body parts or individuals as the subject.
You can also combine these two words, “疼痛,” to signify the uncomfortable feeling caused by illness, injury, or other physical stimuli.
牙疼/牙痛 (Yá téng / Yá tòng) Toothache
头疼/头痛 (Tóu téng / Tóu tòng) Headache
嗓子疼/嗓子痛 (Sǎngzi téng / Sǎngzi tòng) Sore throat
我摔了一跤，疼/痛死我啦。(Wǒ shuāi le yī jiāo, téng / tòng sǐ wǒ la.)
I fell down and it hurts so much.
今天没吃饭，现在胃有点疼/痛。(Jīntiān méi chīfàn, xiànzài wèi yǒudiǎn téng / tòng.)
I didn’t eat today, and now my stomach hurts a bit.
做手术以后，疼痛减轻了不少。(Zuò shǒushù yǐhòu, téngtòng jiǎnqīng le bùshǎo.)
After the surgery, the pain has reduced significantly.
“疼”(téng) is more commonly used in spoken language. In addition to the mentioned meanings above, it can also convey care and affection and is often used by elders when addressing children, “love dearly” “be fond of”. “痛”(tòng) does not have this meaning.
妈妈都心疼自己的孩子。(Māma dōu xīnténg zìjǐ de háizi.)
Mothers all feel heartache for their own children.
没了父母，谁疼自己呢？(Méi le fùmǔ, shuí téng zìjǐ ne?)
Without parents, who will care for myself?
几个孙子中，外婆最疼大孙女。(Jǐ ge sūnzi zhōng, wàipó zuì téng dà sūnnǚ.)
Among the grandchildren, grandma loves the eldest granddaughter the most.
“痛”(tòng) is more commonly used in written language. Apart from the mentioned meanings in common points, it can also convey a sense of sorrow, meaning “heartbroken” or “sorrowful”.
知道你犯了严重的错误，师长们都很痛心。(Zhīdào nǐ fàn le yánzhòng de cuòwù, shīzhǎngmen dōu hěn tòngxīn.)
Knowing that you’ve made a serious mistake, the teachers and seniors are all very heartbroken.
他的病很严重，每天都痛不欲生。(Tā de bìng hěn yánzhòng, měitiān dōu tòng bù yùshēng.)
His illness is very severe; he’s in excruciating pain every day.
对于市长的突然离世，大家都很悲痛。(Duìyú shìzhǎng de tūrán líshì, dàjiā dōu hěn bēitòng.)
Regarding the sudden passing of the mayor, everyone is deeply saddened.
As an adverb, it can be used to express a high degree, meaning “deeply” “extremely” “bitterly”. “疼”(téng) does not carry this meaning.
因为成绩太差，老师把这个学生痛骂了一顿。(Yīnwèi chéngjī tài chà, lǎoshī bǎ zhège xuéshēng tòng mà le yī dùn.)
Because of the poor grades, the teacher scolded this student severely.
下次我们再见面，一定要一起痛饮白酒。(Xià cì wǒmen zàijiànmiàn, yīdìng yào yīqǐ tòng yǐn báijiǔ.)
Next time we meet, we must have a hearty drink of white liquor together.
他们知道自己错了，会痛改前非的。(Tāmen zhīdào zìjǐ cuò le, huì tòng gǎi qián fēi de.)
They know they were wrong and will truly repent.
While both “疼” and “痛” can refer to physical pain, “疼” is more colloquial and can express care or affection, especially from elders to children. “痛” is more formal, can denote a sense of sorrow, and can also be used as an adverb to indicate a high degree of pain or intensity