I know that the definite articles are used instead of possessive pronouns when dealing with body parts unless the sentence is ambiguous.

However, there are times when I get confused:

  1. For example, in the following sentence,

    Te lavas el pelo. - You wash your hair.

    the reflexive pronouns te is used because the subject is performing an action on himself/herself (the object el pelo)

    so when I see a sentences such as,

    Él bajó la cabeza para orar. - He bowed his head to pray.

    Levanto la mano - I raise my hand

    I feel as though it should be

    Me levanto la mano.

    Because the subject yo is performing an action on himself/herself (the object la mano)

  2. When giving a command the form of the command indicates the possessor as in

    ¡Abre los ojos! - Open your eyes!

    but how do I give a command to person A, to perform an action for person B? For example,

    Open his eyes!

  3. Me veo en tus ojos - I see myself in your eyes

    shouldn't this be written like something more along the lines of

    Me te veo los ojos.

  4. How would I translate the following into Spanish?

    open your own eyes

    he washes her hands for her.

    Is it "él le lava los manos para ella"?

I have already read the following

Gramática: “te veo los ojos”

2 Answers 2


1) You only need to add "me" if there's some ambiguity as to whose hand is going up. Under normal circumstances, you're raising your own hand, and no one's arm is intertwined with yours creating confusion. Thus we say, in a big committee meeting,

Levanto la mano [para pedir la palabra] | I raise my hand [to get a turn to speak]

However, if it's a pronominal verb, e.g. lavarse las manos, then it would be

Me lavo las manos.

Maybe you have gotten the pronominal pattern stuck in your ear. If so, it would be helpful to look at some additional non-pronominal body-part usages, to establish that second pattern. Here are some: Cierra los ojos y pide un deseo; puedes abrir los ojos ahora; no es cortés poner el codo en la mesa.

It's also possible you are confusing with some other phrases involving mano that you heard. Perhaps one of these? Dame la mano | Give me your hand; No me levantes la mano | Don't raise your hand against me.

2) You will need an indirect object to say "Open his eyes". Example in a medical context:

Ábrele los ojos [al paciente].

3) "Me veo en tus ojos" is fine as a description of a poetic image. (It can't be literal, right? Because someone's eyes don't actually function as mirrors.)

Your proposed "Me te veo los ojos" doesn't sound right to my ear. Here's an intuitive attempt to explain it: Here, both object pronouns would be indirect; but there can only be one indirect object pronoun in a cluster, because if there were two, the listener wouldn't know which pronoun to connect with which object. In this case, for example, how would the listener know whether the eyes refer to "me" or "te"?

The other objection I have to your proposed sentence is that the "en" is gone. Your sentence no longer conveys the poetical image of the other person's eyes functioning as a quasi-mirror. It's just an objective description of seeing the person's eyes. The poetry is gone.

4) Translations

(a) Ábrete los ojos tú mismo. (I'm assuming you want to convey that the person should open his eyes without someone else helping him. Correct me if I misunderstood.)

(b) Almost. You've made a little mistake with the gender of the article. Remember that manos is feminine (irregularly).

If you fix that article, I would not be very uncomfortable with your proposed sentence; however, I would prefer a tiny change in the preposition:

Él le lava las manos por ella.

Por/para explanations have been treated elsewhere and I won't get into a treatise about that here. However, if the existing Q-As on that topic leave you with some lack of clarity, that would be a great separate question to ask.

  • I don't agree with the first two ones at all. You'd just say "levanto la mano"and "levanto las manos", as it's understood that it refers to your hands. Otherwise you would specify: "le levanto las manos", but you don't use "me".
    – FGSUZ
    Apr 29, 2018 at 11:16
  • @FGSUZ - Oops, of course, thanks, will fix that. Apr 29, 2018 at 12:31
  • I am still confused about part one and I think that I shall ask a separate question about it later. i agree that i am viewing everything as being pronominal which is the biggest part of the problem.Also, thank you for the example sentences. I will use them in my next question.
    – Simple
    Apr 29, 2018 at 20:18

I am a bit confused by this subject as well, but wanted to reference a relevant bit of A New Modern Reference of Modern Spanish in case it helps others:

One says me quité la camisa ‘I took my shirt off’, not quité la camisa (= ‘I removed the shirt’/‘I took the shirt away’), because one’s shirt does not come off by itself and effort is required. For this reason one says abrí los ojos ‘I opened my eyes’ (they opened naturally) whereas me abrí los ojos suggests that your eyelids were stuck together and had to be separated.

source: Butt, John B.. A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish (Routledge Reference Grammars) (p. 100). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Personally I am not sure about this explanation. The "requires effort" explanation seems unnecessary since "quitarse [algo]" definition is a better match than "quitar" (according to https://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=quitar) and "abrir" is a better match than abrirse (https://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=abrirse) for what is being said. So I'm inclined to believe the "me" is there as the reflexive usage of the verb is desired. But then maybe the explanation quoted is also explaining why quitar/quitarse and abrir/abrirse are relatively defined as they are.

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