Using mon, ma, mes, etc with parts of the body (possessive adjectives)

Normally the definite article (le/la/les) is used with body parts (j'ai mal à la tête)

See Using le, la, les with body parts and clothing (definite articles)

 

However, in the following special cases:

  • when special emphasis on the body part is desired, or 
  • when another person is involved 

the possessive adjective (sa,son,ta,ton etc.) is used instead of the definite article (le/la/les) to reduce ambiguity.

Montre-moi tes mains!  
Show me your hands!

J'ai pris sa main
I took her hand

Regarde son nez! 
Look at his nose!

 

Also, when the body part is the subject of the verb (rather than the object), possessive adjectives are used:

J'ai mal à la tête.
My head hurts.

BUT

Ma tête me fait mal.
My head hurts.

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

J'ai pris sa main
I took her hand


Montre-moi tes mains!  
Show me your hands!


Ma tête me fait mal.
My head hurts.


J'ai mal à la tête.
My head hurts.


Regarde son nez! 
Look at his nose!


Q&A Forum 7 questions, 28 answers

M'a fait mal

I almost never get an answer to my questions, but I will try once more. I learned that ," J'ai mal a la tete" meant "My head hurts," or "I have a headache, (sorry but don't know the keystrokes here to get accent symbols). Now, in this exercise, it's using "faire" rather than "avoir" to express physical discomfort, but the answer concenrates only on the use of possessive adjectives, not the strange change from "avoir" to "faire." I feel frustrated and very confused. Help!

Asked 2 weeks ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Joanne, 

There are different ways to say something hurts -

Ma tête me fait mal = J'ai mal à la tête 

using two expressions to say the same thing -

Avoir mal à  + le/la/lespart of the body

e.g

J'ai mal aux dents ( à + les = les) = I have toothache

J'ai mal au dos (à + le= au)  = I have backache

J'ai mal à la cheville My ankle hurts

but you could also say :

part of the body  (using the possessive adjectives)  + me fait mal

e.g.

Mon dos me fait mal = My back is painful

Mes jambes me font mal = My legs hurt

Ma cheville me fait mal = My ankle is painful

Hope this makes things clearer.

 

 

Hi Joanna,

Let me jump in and give my 2 cents' worth.

Faire du mal à quelqu'un = To hurt someone.

Je me suis fait mal à la jambe. -- I hurt my leg.

Avoir mal à quelque part = To "have pain" somewhere, i.e., something hurts.

J'ai mal au pied car je me suis fait mal quand je suis tombé ce matin. -- My leg hurts because I hurt myself when I fell this morning.

SimonKwiziq language super star

Hi Joanne

I'm sorry to hear you haven't had your questions answered, looking at your list of questions though it looks like almost all of them have been responded to either by our wonderful community members and/or a Kwiziq team member, https://french.kwiziq.com/user/17246 was there something missing in those answers?  We definitely don't want you to feel ignored!

Please do let us know

Simon

M'a fait mal

I almost never get an answer to my questions, but I will try once more. I learned that ," J'ai mal a la tete" meant "My head hurts," or "I have a headache, (sorry but don't know the keystrokes here to get accent symbols). Now, in this exercise, it's using "faire" rather than "avoir" to express physical discomfort, but the answer concenrates only on the use of possessive adjectives, not the strange change from "avoir" to "faire." I feel frustrated and very confused. Help!

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LizA2

Confused. On another site, I learned that personal pronouns are not used with body parts, ie les pieds vs mes pieds. What’s correct? Thanks.

Asked 1 month ago
ChrisC1Correct answer

As stated in the lesson, in general you don't use personal pronouns with body parts except for when there is a special emphasis, danger of confusion or when the body part is actually the subject of the sentence.

LizA2

Chris, thanks so much for clarifying this. 

You're welcome.

Confused. On another site, I learned that personal pronouns are not used with body parts, ie les pieds vs mes pieds. What’s correct? Thanks.

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Ma tête ou la tête ?

What is the difference between "ma tête me fait mal" y 

"la tête me fait mal". They seem the same to me.

Asked 2 months ago

Saying "la tête me fait mal" is more natural to a French speaker than "ma tête me fait mal". You'll use the second version only if there is a potential for confusion about which head you're talking.

I understand but when I answered "la tête me fait mal", it was marked wrong. 

I suspect this part of the lesson is relevant here:

when special emphasis on the body part is desired

You use a possessive adjective when the body part is the subject of the verb. "Ma tête me fait mal"  is actually given as an example in the lesson.

OK but why is "me" necessary if you use the possessive pronoun?

Because the pattern is: qqc fait mal à qqn

When "tete" is an object, it is preceded by the french definite article and a preposition. This is a generality when you are talking about parts of the body.

J'ai mal à la tête = I have a headache.

Je suis blessé à la main = My hand is hurt.

Chris 

Surely "qqc" can mean both "la tête" and "ma tête" in your construction.

This was to explain why to use "me", as per your question. The French "me" corresponds to the "à qqn" part. 

Ma tête ou la tête ?

What is the difference between "ma tête me fait mal" y 

"la tête me fait mal". They seem the same to me.

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Confused

But if you do use possessive adjectives when another person is involved, why can't I say "François reste dehors, ses chaussures couvertes de boue." François is another person. Am I misunderstanding and what you meant by "other person"?

How does it work then? Do you use"les pieds" to say "He washes his feet" but "ses pieds" if I'm washing his feet? Is that right? 

Asked 8 months ago
SteveB2Correct answer

I think the two rules in the lesson are by and large those to remember:

when special emphasis on the body part is desired, or when another person is involved

This is effectively what you are saying.

Unfortunately I think "all bets are off" if we start to talk about poetry, where artistic licence will be the order of the day.

One could consider your Jacques Brel example to be a form of emphasis (I assume he is in love with someone and is making his point forcefully).

"La main dans la main" is effectively a direct translation of "hand in hand" (given that in French we are forced to provide the article), and almost by definition, only two people can hold hands so there is no ambiguity.

Honestly I wouldn't sweat this one. If you use possessive adjectives where you feel there is ambiguity, and nomral articles where you feel there is none, then that is good enough.

SteveB2

Michelle,

"When another person is involved" refers to the case when there are two people in the same sentence. So my understanding is that your sentence would normally use "les chaussures" since there is no-one else's shoes in that sentence to be confused with.

Even with your second point:

"Il se lave les pieds" and similarly

"Je lui lave les pieds" (I wash his/her feet).

I note that these reflexive verbs are not part of the discussion on the page you link to.

I'm not a native speaker so would be happy for an expert to correct anything I have got wrong here.

Months later but...this is one of those things that I just never fully "get". If I'm understanding this correctly this only applies when there are two or more people in the sentence AND there is no reflexive. So basically, only if there is no other way to avoid confusion when using la/le/les (such as a reflexive or the person's name when there are more people), would I use possessive articles. Other than if I want to place special emphasis (such as, I sank as low as having to wash someone's feet) or the body part is the subject of the verb. 

This one is definitely a source of frustration for me because in books and songs, there sometimes seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Hearing real life usage of it just confuses me further instead of making things clearer.  I read "Je lave ses pieds de mes larmes" in a book of poetry. Françoise Hardy says "La main dans la main" and the French version of Pippi Longstocking uses this too. Yet Jacques Brel says "Ta main dans ma main". Yves Montant says "Car malgré son aigle au milieu du dos le cœur est bon et sous ses cheveux gris...".

Confused

But if you do use possessive adjectives when another person is involved, why can't I say "François reste dehors, ses chaussures couvertes de boue." François is another person. Am I misunderstanding and what you meant by "other person"?

How does it work then? Do you use"les pieds" to say "He washes his feet" but "ses pieds" if I'm washing his feet? Is that right? 

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"ma tête me fait mal" why not "la tête" since "me fait" already indicates it's your own head ?

Asked 10 months ago
As the lesson specifies, you use the personal pronoun also when special emphasis is put on the body part. I assume that's the case in the sentence you quote. However, without knowing the context that's impossible to tell.
As the lesson specifies, you use the personal pronoun alao when special emphasis is put on the body part. I assume that's the case in the sentence you quote. However, without knowing the context that's impossible to tell. 

"ma tête me fait mal" why not "la tête" since "me fait" already indicates it's your own head ?

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Needing to show possession of body part

Are these both correct for saying, I wish my hair was thick: "Je me souhaite que les cheveux soient épais" or, " Je souhaite que mes cheveux soient epais?" Can you make basically any verb pronomial by adding reflexis pronouns and then know who's "body part" you're talking about? Thank you!
Asked 1 year ago
This would need the input of a native speaker for a definitive answer. But since German treats posession of body parts similarly to French, I am going to venture a guess. In this case I would the posessive "mes cheveux". -- Chris (not a native speaker).
Thank you, Chris! I really appreciate your help. Hopefully, Aurelie will chime in here:)
CécileKwiziq language super star
J'aimerais / je souhaite que mes cheveux soient épais is correct. You could say j'aimerais avoir les cheveux épais too. You cannot make a reflexive in this case .
VERY helpful! Thank you!

Needing to show possession of body part

Are these both correct for saying, I wish my hair was thick: "Je me souhaite que les cheveux soient épais" or, " Je souhaite que mes cheveux soient epais?" Can you make basically any verb pronomial by adding reflexis pronouns and then know who's "body part" you're talking about? Thank you!

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Je ne sens plus mes jambes

Hello, in the writing test for A2 Week 35 'Je ne sens plus mes jambes' is given as the answer for a translation of 'I can't feel my legs anymore.' Since in this sentence 'jambes' are the object, this left me a bit confused. ~Could you help please?
Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Andy ! I know it's quite confusing, don't worry ! Here it's a case of needing to specify which legs as the context is not that explicit. For example, the verb here is not reflexive, as in "Je me brosse les dents." (I brush myself the teeth.), in which case we're given the owner of the teeth within the sentence. Here we need to say "mes jambes" as opposed to someone else's. And in the case of "J'ai des crampes dans les épaules", you use "les" because of the clear context set up in the previous sentence, but also of the use of "avoir" (J'ai des crampes) which emphasises the belonging of the shoulders to the person speaking, hence the use of "les".
Aha that makes perfect sense Merci beaucoup !
Sorry, I don't see the logic of your answer, re "Je ne sens plus mes jambes". I mean, wouldn't it be clear, if someone says, "I can't feel...." that they would be referring to their legs, and not someone else's? Unless we're talking about an X-rated film. ;-) Therefore, shouldn't the correct answer be "Je ne sens plus LES jambes" ?

Very Helpful. Thank you.

Je ne sens plus mes jambes

Hello, in the writing test for A2 Week 35 'Je ne sens plus mes jambes' is given as the answer for a translation of 'I can't feel my legs anymore.' Since in this sentence 'jambes' are the object, this left me a bit confused. ~Could you help please?

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