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

William

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

9 replies

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.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

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.

William

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

I suspect this part of the lesson is relevant here:

when special emphasis on the body part is desired

Alan

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

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.

William

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

Because the pattern is: qqc fait mal à qqn

Said

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

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.

William

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2019

8/05/19

Chris 

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 May 2019

9/05/19

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

Michelle

Kwiziq community member

30 October 2018

3 replies

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? 

Steve

Kwiziq community member

4 November 2018

4/11/18

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.

Michelle

Kwiziq community member

21 December 2018

21/12/18

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...".

Steve

Kwiziq community member

21 December 2018

21/12/18

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.

Richard

Kwiziq community member

8 September 2018

2 replies

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 September 2018

9/09/18

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.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 September 2018

9/09/18

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. 

helen

Kwiziq community member

19 January 2018

4 replies

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!

Chris

Kwiziq community member

19 January 2018

19/01/18

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).

helen

Kwiziq community member

20 January 2018

20/01/18

Thank you, Chris! I really appreciate your help. Hopefully, Aurelie will chime in here:)

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

21 January 2018

21/01/18

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 .

helen

Kwiziq community member

21 January 2018

21/01/18

VERY helpful! Thank you!

Andy

Kwiziq community member

19 December 2016

4 replies

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?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

19 December 2016

19/12/16

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".

Andy

Kwiziq community member

19 December 2016

19/12/16

Aha that makes perfect sense Merci beaucoup !

Janet

Kwiziq community member

9 October 2017

9/10/17

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" ?

Fran

Kwiziq community member

27 March 2019

27/03/19

Very Helpful. Thank you.

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