Using the ethnoscientific method, a taxonomy depicting types of suffering experienced by patients was developed Nurses were asked to describe patients' suffering and, from this data, the differing types were identified The four major domains identified were ‘to bear it’, ‘to stay in control’, ‘to protect’, and ‘to strengthen’ Under these broad domains, nurses identified 24 different types of suffering, such as peaceful, meaningful, self-absorbed, silent, stoic, flaunted, martyr-like, ‘in limbo’, and hopeless Implications for nurses are that (a) patients expend much energy in their suffering and this should be considered when giving care, (b) nurses' personal evaluation of patient suffering should not preclude individualized care, (c) patients need personal space periodically, (d) some patients do not want their suffering alleviated, and (e) hidden reasons for patient behaviour are likely to exist