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"My head hurts" translates as "me duele la cabeza" and not "mi cabeza duele." I was taught that possessive pronouns are redundant and hence dropped when speaking of body parts. Does this rule apply to any other possession or is it strictly on for body parts? If so, why? Also, how would one translate the same sentence if the subject is someone else? Let's say the sentence is "His leg hurts". Would it be "Le duele la pierna"? Or would it be "Se duele la pierna"? To make things even more complicated, what if a name is given, e.g., "Ronaldo's leg hurts"? Without Ronaldo, I would assume leg (or whatever body part is in question) would be the subject. But with the name specified, there seem to be two subjects...that's so unnatural to English ears!

  • It would not be two subjects at all..."Ronaldo's leg hurts" has one subject, which is "leg." How on earth would "Ronaldo" be the subject? – Aprendedor May 16 '15 at 12:26
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His leg hurts would be correctly translated as "Le duele la pierna", literally, "The leg hurts him". In this respect, it functions exactly as in English, except that an object is obligatory, rather than optional. If you wanted to say that Ronaldo's leg hurts, you would just specify him as the explicity indirect object: "Le duele la pierna a Ronaldo".

In Spanish, when possessed things affect their owners, the ownership is very commonly shown via the indirect object. This isn't exclusive to body parts: "Se me averió el coche" will be most commonly be interpreted as "My car broke down on me".

Possessive pronouns can be used in these structures, but normally only when the thing being owned is affecting someone else, quite uncommon with body parts such that at the moment, I can't think of any example that's not overly contrived. But notice in the previous example, if I were driving your car, I would say "Se me averió tu coche".

  • In "se me averió el coche," what purpose does "se" serve? Especially since one has already specified the object (el coche). Also, what if I have to say "Ronaldo hurt his leg"? I have seen this sentence translated as "Ronaldo se ha lesionado en pierna." Shouldn't pierna be the subject as you said since we're not using the possessive pronoun here? – TheLearner Nov 25 '14 at 7:43
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    @AmitSchandillia El coche is not the object - it's the subject. Many verbs in Spanish require an object that in English is optional. Pierna only needs be the subject if you use a verb like lastimar: "A Ronaldo se le lastimó la pierna". Using lesionar, that's something you do to something else, so "Ronaldo se ha lesionado la pierna", with the reflexive "se" functioning as an IO. If he hurt your leg, "Ronaldo te ha lesionado la pierna" where the IO indicates it was your leg. – user0721090601 Nov 25 '14 at 8:03
  • Sorry about carro. I realize it's the subject. What I am confused about is the verb averiar being reflexive here. – TheLearner Nov 25 '14 at 8:08
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    Averiar means to break something down. You can't just breakdown in Spanish, you must break something down. See my comment on your other question re cansar, it's the same thing going on. – user0721090601 Nov 25 '14 at 8:10

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