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Spanish Phrases - Feeling Unwell

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.

DOLER (to hurt, to ache)

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.

  • Yo - Me duele/n
  • Tú - Te duele/n
  • Él / Ella / Usted - Le duele/n
  • Nosotros / Nosotras - Nos duele/n
  • Vosotros / Vosotras - Os duele/n
  • Ellos / Ellas - Les duele/n

Use DUELE with singular things that give you pain/discomfort

When the thing that hurts you is singular (e.g. my head), we use Me duele + singular object.

  • Me duele la cabeza - My head hurts. I have a headache.
  • Me duele la barriga - My tummy hurts. I have tummy ache.
  • ¿Te duele la cabeza? - Does your head hurt? Do you have a headache?

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'.

Use DUELEN with plural things that give you pain/discomfort

When the thing that hurts you is plural, we use Me duelen + plural object.

  • Me duelen las muelas - My teeth hurt.
  • Me duelen las manos - My hands hurt.
  • ¿Le duelen los pies? - Do your feet hurt?

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'.

TENER (to have)

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.

  • Yo tengo dolor de cabeza. (I have a headache.)
  • Tú tienes dolor de cabeza. (You have a headache.)
  • Él / Ella tiene dolor de cabeza. (He/She has a headache.)
  • Usted tiene dolor de cabeza. (You (polite) have got a headache.)
  • Nosotros / Nosotras tenemos dolor de cabeza. (We have got headaches.)
  • Vosotros / Vosotras tenéis dolor de cabeza. (You have got headaches.)
  • Ellos / Ellas tienen dolor de cabeza. (They have got headaches.)

We can use this verb (tener) to say the following for example:

  • Tengo dolor de cabeza - I have a headache.
  • Tengo dolor de garganta - I have a sore throat.
  • Tengo dolor de estómago - I have a stomach ache.
  • Tengo dolor de espalda - I have a backache.
  • Tengo dolor de muelas - I have a toothache.
  • Tengo dolor de pies - My feet hurt.
  • Tengo dolor de hombro - My shoulder hurts.

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.

  • Tengo fiebre (I have a temperature)
  • Tengo mareos (I feel dizzy)
  • Tengo náuseas (I feel nauseus)
  • Tengo vómitos (I have vomiting)
  • Tengo gripe (I have the flu)
  • Tengo tos (I have a cough)
  • Tengo diarrea (I have diarrhea)
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