I was reading about how in Spanish one will use a definite article instead of a possessive article when context indicates who the noun belongs to. For example, one would likely say "Tengo el pasaporte" instead of "Tengo mi pasaporte".

I am wondering if the order matters- in cases where the direct object object comes before a verb. Would the object still us a definite instead of a possessive article?

For example, one could say "se me abrieron los ojos" - "my eyes opened". Changing the word order, would I also say "los ojos se me abrieron", or would I have to say "mis ojos se abrieron" since the context suggesting whose eyes (the pronoun me) has not occured yet? I can find "mis ojos se abrieron" in linguee but not "los ojos se me abrieron", but that isn't conclusive.

Similarly, I could say "Abrí los ojos" for "I opened my eyes". Could I say "Los ojos abrí" or would I need to say "Mis ojos abrí"? (this is similar to the previous question, except the verb conjugation rather than an object pronoun is providing the context).

  • In my opinion, the possessive is generally not used, regardless of whether it's a body part or something else. However, in both cases, if the context doesn't make clear whose body part, or whatever, is being talked about, then a possessive or some other clarification will be needed. Note, a woman hollering in a crowded bus, "Quítese la mano de la pierna" is an example where people will have no difficulty figuring out whose hand and whose leg are being talked about. // I can imagine that in a poem or in Translation Golf (a fun game we play here), ... Feb 7, 2020 at 3:25
  • ... one might futz with the word order for fun, and I don't think that would change the general preference for not using a possessive pronoun. // I don't understand your last sentence. "Concerns" -- is that an accidental leftover from some editing? Feb 7, 2020 at 3:29
  • Thanks, I updated the second paragraph. I'm just hedging in case the example I gave is invalid for other reasons, trying to explain what the question was getting at otherwise. Feb 7, 2020 at 4:33
  • 1
    I can certainly imagine a poem including the line "Los ojos abrí." "Mis ojos abrí" sounds unnatural. Feb 8, 2020 at 1:19
  • Ok, given that and other responses I believe the answer is that using the definitive is not affected by the object occuring before or after the verb phrase. Feb 12, 2020 at 18:01

1 Answer 1


There is a difference between:

(1) Tengo el pasaporte.


(2) Tengo mi pasaporte.

In (1), the passport will most likely belong to the subject but can also belong to somebody else.

With parts of the body, it's another story. Unless you cause somebody else to open their eyes, you will usually open your own eyes. Thus, a sentence like:

(3) Abrí los ojos.

will unmistakenly mean: I opened my eyes.

The use of the dative:

(4) Se me abrieron los ojos.

is definitely more idiomatic than the use of the possessive:

(5) Se abrieron mis ojos.

(5) is a correct sentence in Spanish, but can suggest that the person's eyes have an existence of their own, separate from that of their owner.

In front position, both the article + dative and the possessive work when the part of the body in question is the subject.

The sentence:

(6) Los ojos abrí.

sounds odd and I think it could only be used for emphasis, for example: Los ojos abrí, pero no los oídos (although Abrí los ojos, pero no los oídos would be more usual).

(7) Mis ojos abrí.

does not sound right.

  • Thanks for the notes. For 4, I'm not sure how to interpret "is definitely more idiomatic", is it right/wrong/regionally accepted/etc? Feb 7, 2020 at 3:03
  • I'm not really sure what you mean in 5 with "both the article + dative and the possessive work". I think you my mean article&dative works (los ojos se me abrieron) or just the possessive also works (mis ojos se abrieron), if you could confirm. Feb 7, 2020 at 3:09
  • For 6, my understanding is it would be used for putting emphasis on "los ojos". But in summary, to get at what I was trying to ask, it sounds like if the object moves before the verb and dative that we can (and typically would) use the definite rather then the possessive article. Feb 7, 2020 at 3:13
  • For 5, I don't think I proposed "Se abrieron mis ojos.". were you actually commenting about "mis ojos se abrieron"? – Feb 7, 2020 at 3:15
  • @FrankSchwieterman "Idiomatic" means "more like an actual speaker would say it", "more natural". Something might be grammatically correct yet un-idiomatic.
    – pablodf76
    Feb 7, 2020 at 11:12

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