Health-related Words & Phrases
Whether talking to friends, business colleagues or doctors, if you feel unwell, it's important to be able to express clearly what the problem is. Learn essential vocabulary on our page about parts of the body. Below are some brief notes on grammar, especially the use of DOLER & TENER, and key phrases to express ideas about minor illnesses, aches and pains.
In Spanish, it is common to express the feeling of pain with an indirect-object pronoun. The pronoun refers to the person who has the pain, not the source of the pain. So in English we might say 'I have a headache', but in Spanish it would be 'Me duele la cabeza' ( ~ the head hurts me).
Look at the forms of these verbs, according to the corresponding pronoun.
Note that the verb DOLER is similar to the verb GUSTAR in that it has only two forms: 'duele' or 'duelen' depending on whether the object (what hurts) is singular or plural.
When the thing that hurts you is singular (e.g. my head), we use Me duele + singular object.
Notice that rather than saying my head, my tummy, my foot, etc., in Spanish the definite article is used 'la cabeza', 'la barriga', 'la pie'.
When the thing that hurts you is plural, we use Me duelen + plural object.
Notice that rather than saying my teeth, my hands, my eyes, etc., in Spanish the definite article is used 'las muelas', 'las manos', 'los ojos'.
When we feel an ache, we generally use the verb TENER (to have) plus a noun phrase such as 'ache of the head'. This is similar to 'I have a headache' in English. Note: dolor = ache.
We can use this verb (tener) to say the following for example:
Notice 'de cabeza', 'de garganta', etc. No article (a/an, the) or possessive pronoun (my) is necessary.
There are some feelings/symptoms, etc that can ONLY be used with the verb TENER rather than DUELEN.