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

Unlike in English, when referring to someone's own body parts (or own pieces of clothing, such as pockets, clothes...), in French the definite article (le,la,l',les) is used rather than the possessive adjective (ma,mon, sa, son etc).

Learn how to use the French definite articles with body parts and clothing

Ils ont les yeux fermés.They have their eyes closed.

Nous sommes rentrés, les vêtements tout sales et les cheveux en bataille.We came home, our clothes all dirty and our hair ruffled.

Croisons les doigts !Fingers crossed! / Let's cross our fingers!

J’ai mal à la tête.My head hurts.

Tu as les mains dans les poches.You've got your hands in your pockets.

NOTE: You can also use the reflexive version of the verb when it exists (laver = to wash -> se laver = to wash oneself) to make the owner more clear:

Je me lave les pieds.I'm washing my feet.

Nous nous grattons la tête.We're scratching our heads.

Tu t'es cassé le bras.You broke your arm.

Il se brosse les dents.He's brushing his teeth.

ATTENTION: Using the reflexive form doesn't work systematically, especially when the reflexive form has a different meaning to the simple form, like lever = to lift/raise  vs  se lever = to get up.
In this case, you'll simply use the verb lever with the definite article: for French people, the possessive meaning would be obvious, unless a clear context states otherwise.

Jean lève la main.Jean raises his hand.

Le garçon a levé la tête du poisson mort pour la couper.The boy lifted the head of the dead fish to cut it.

Elle a baissé la tête.She lowered her head.


Note that it applies also to animals' bodies:

Mon chien agite la queue quand il me voit.My dog wags his tail when he sees me.
 

As usual, there are special cases that don't follow that rule:
See Special cases when you use mon/ma/mes/etc with parts of the body (French Possessive Adjectives) .

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Examples and resources

Jean lève la main.Jean raises his hand.
Ils ont les yeux fermés.They have their eyes closed.
Elle a baissé la tête.She lowered her head.
J’ai mal à la tête.My head hurts.
Nous nous grattons la tête.We're scratching our heads.
Vous vous faites les onglesYou're doing your nails
Tu as les mains dans les poches.You've got your hands in your pockets.
Nous sommes rentrés, les vêtements tout sales et les cheveux en bataille.We came home, our clothes all dirty and our hair ruffled.
Mon chien agite la queue quand il me voit.My dog wags his tail when he sees me.
Croisons les doigts !Fingers crossed! / Let's cross our fingers!
Je me lave les pieds.I'm washing my feet.
Le garçon a levé la tête du poisson mort pour la couper.The boy lifted the head of the dead fish to cut it.
Tu t'es cassé le bras.You broke your arm.
De nos jours, c'est mieux si on a des yeux derrière la tête.Nowadays, it's better if we have eyes in the back of our heads.
Il se brosse les dents.He's brushing his teeth.
Chuck Berry avait vraiment le rythme dans la peau.Chuck Berry really had rhythm in his blood.
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