Anatomy

The human body

Whereas English uses a possessive pronoun in referring to parts of the body, Spanish uses the definite article:

 

  •  she closed her eyes = cerró los ojos

  •  he knitted his brows = frunció el ceño

 

Spanish often uses a reflexive verb in these cases:

 

  •  I washed my face = me lavé la cara

  •  he brushed his hair = se cepilló el pelo

  •  she rubbed her arm = se sobó el brazo

 

This includes many verbs which describe accidents:

 

  •  he injured his knee = se lesionó la rodilla

  •  she broke her elbow = se rompió el codo

  •  I burned my fingers = me quemé los dedos

  •  I bit my tongue = me mordí la lengua

 

When intransitive verbs are used it is the pronouns me/ te/ le etc that indicate the person being referred to:

 

  •  my arm/liver/nose hurts = me duele el brazo/el hígado/la nariz

  •  my arm itches = me pica el brazo

  •  his hands were shaking = le temblaban las manos

  •  her eyes were stinging = le escocían or le ardían los ojos

 

For an action involving more than one person, Spanish uses the indirect personal pronoun (me/ te/ le etc) with a transitive verb, in order to show who the object of the action is:

 

  •  she kissed his cheek = le besó la mejilla (literally she kissed to him the cheek)

  •  she touched my arm = me tocó el brazo

  •  she brushed her (another person’s) hair = le cepilló el pelo

 

Note the translations of the examples below, in which the action is performed on more than one person:

 

  •  he cut off their heads = les cortaba la cabeza (i.e. each individual has only one head to be cut off)

 

Describing People

In describing general physical features, Spanish uses:

tener + definite article:

 

  •  he has blue eyes o his eyes are blue = tiene los ojos azules

  •  she has a thin face = tiene la cara delgada

  •  she has short hair = tiene el pelo corto

 

ser de:

 

  •  her eyes are blue o she has blue eyes = es de ojos azules

  •  her hair is blond = es de pelo rubio

  •  she has fine features = es de rasgos finos

 

tener can also be used to describe a changed or unusual appearance:

 

  •  your face is red = tienes la cara roja

  •  his lips are swollen = tiene los labios hinchados

 

Expressions relating to conditions or illnesses affecting parts of the body

 

  •  to have a weak heart = sufrir del corazón

  •  to have a bad back = tener problemas de espalda

  •  to have breast cancer = tener cáncer de mama

  •  to have a stomach ulcer = tener una úlcera estomacal

 

Aches and pains are both expressed using the verb doler or the noun dolor:

 

  •  my legs ache = me duelen las piernas

  •  I have a pain in my leg = me duele la pierna

  •  I have a headache = tengo dolor de cabeza or me duele la cabeza

  •  I have toothache = tengo dolor de muelas or me duelen las muelas

  •  I have a stomach ache = tengo dolor de estómago or me duele el estómago

  •  stomach/chest pains = dolores de estómago/de pecho

See more from Usage notes