In my previous question, I posted the following sentence.

Juan la lava las manos. Juan washes her hands.(he washes someone else's hand)

I understand why this is wrong, "Juan la lava" means Juan is washing a person (in which case bañar is preferred) and "las manos seems to have no connection with what Precedes it.

the correction I received was,

Juan le lava las manos. he washes her hands.

if this literally translates to

he washes her hands for her.

then it makes sense, if not, I don't understand how the indirect object le fits into the sentence.

In a similar manner, consider the following sentences.

a él le gustan los mangos literally means mangoes are pleasing to him.

le duele la cabeza literally means the head hearts him.

While I don't have problems using the verb doler in Spanish as I know it is a "Verb like gustar" and must be preceded by an indirect object, I can't see le functioning as the indirect object when used with doler. I understand le with the use of gustar since something is pleasing to him but with doler it hurts him and not to/for him.

Perhaps this confusion stems form the fact that i'm only accustomed to sentences such as,

Gabriel le compró una rosa.Gabriel bought a rose for her.

Ella le mandó la carta.She sent the letter to her.

in which the indirect object is always to or for a person or thing

  • Perhaps you are over-thinking this? It might be easier to accept that this is just the way they do it and not try to make a literal translation.
    – mdewey
    Mar 19, 2018 at 9:49
  • Spanish indirect pronouns don't work in exactly the same way as English ones. But it helps me use "doler" if I mentally think "gives pain": "le duele la cabeza" = the head gives pain to him/her.
    – ajo
    Mar 19, 2018 at 13:38
  • See if one of these helps: "My head is causing me pain; my head is driving me nuts." Mar 20, 2018 at 4:12
  • 1
    It does help, i guess the difficulty came form trying to match word for word. Mar 20, 2018 at 5:05
  • Canonical answer: spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/26171/…
    – pablodf76
    Oct 5, 2019 at 14:29

1 Answer 1


Trying to fit a word of a language into the mold of another one can sometimes work and sometimes not. If it looks like it doesn't work and furthermore confuses you, it's best to drop it and just try to get used to the structure.

That said, if you still want to try to make a parallel between gustar and doler and their equivalents in English, you could change things a bit. If gustar means "to be pleasing" then doler can mean "to be hurtful", and thus:

Me gusta el helado. = "Icecream is pleasing to me."
Me duele la cabeza. = "The head is hurtful to me."

This is actually a bit better than translating gustar as "to please" because things do not actually, actively work to please people; they simple are pleasing, i.e. "being pleasing" is a passive quality. In the same way, "being hurtful" (or less literally "being sore") is not something a part of your body chooses to do, but also a passive state. The unusual grammar and the inverted word order of the Spanish phrases has a lot to do with this: some types of passive subjects often work better after the verb, while the normal position before the verb works better with animate, active subjects (think e.g. how you would translate "I [accidentally] dropped my pencil" in Spanish: Se me cayó el lápiz).

Finally, consider that Spanish indirect objects are not exactly like English ones. They sometimes don't mean a simple secondary object as in e. g. dar algo a alguien, but can also refer to some unspecified involvement, as in Se me rompió el auto = "The car broke down on me", or Los otros le comieron la comida = "The others ate his/her food". You'll be running into these as you learn more Spanish.

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