FR: wash your hands

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by johnL, Feb 10, 2008.

  1. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Hello, folks.
    In some situations where an English speaker would use a possessive pronoun (Wash your hands.), French uses an article. (Lave les mains.) But at other times, French uses a possessive pronoun, just like English. (Ta soeur est belle.)

    How do we know whether to use an article or pronoun?
    Thanks very much.
     
  2. mplsray Senior Member

    Do the French say "Lave les mains"? I would expect "Lave-toi les mains."

    The article is used when a reflexive verb is used to describe an action performed on a part of one's body:

    Je me lave les mains. I wash my hands.

    Je me suis brossé les dents. I brushed my teeth.

    Il s'est mordu la langue. He bit his tongue.
     
  3. francois_auffret Senior Member

    Lahore, Pakistan
    France, French
    I think this has been discussed in other threads....

    It is said that French doesn't like to use possessive pronouns with body parts mainly... In this case, French would use a reflexive verb + definite article...

    Je me suis brossé les cheveux; Elle s'est lavé les mains, Il s'est cassé la jambe; elle s'est foulé le poignet...

    The idea of possession is clearly expressed with the reflexive...

    When the action is not done on oneself, not requiring a reflexive verb, we use the preposition à the following way:::

    Je lui ai lavé les cheveux.... Il lui a cassé la jambe.... Elle lui a tordu le poignet.... etc....
     
  4. benk Junior Member

    English, USA
    C'est une question assez compliquée, mais je peux vous dire que lorsqu'on parle du corps, on utilise l'article toujours.
     
  5. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Thanks to everyone for the help.

    I'm not sure whether or not you're sure.:) I think that, in one of my videos, the mother says, "Lave les mains." to her daughter. Can someone verify this, please?
     
  6. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    Despite what your video might say, the correct form is indeed: Lave-toi les mains. The reflexive construction is used when the hands are used. If not, the reflexive is omitted.

    Je me lave la figure.
    Je bombe la poitrine. (Note the definite article is still normal here.)

    If the part of the body is modified by one or more adjectives, the possessive adjective is reinstated.

    Elle s'est peigné ses beaux cheveux blonds.

    Cheers!
     
  7. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Geostan is totally right. You must have misheard what the mother said because it is definitely not something a native would say.
     
  8. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Okay, well, lots of good information here! This general subject has been a puzzle to me for a while. So thanks again to everybody for your help.
     
  9. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    Maybe you are thinking of "Lève la main" ? (Raise your hand)
     
  10. sam's mum

    sam's mum Senior Member

    Southampton
    England English
    How it was explained to me was that, with parts of the body, you wouldn't be washing/brushing etc anybody else's....
     
  11. Areyou Crazy

    Areyou Crazy Senior Member

    Versailles PARIS
    England English speaker
    I am not sure I agree there!
    If I have understood you correctly...
    Mothers often wash the hands of their children


    Certainly it's not really a good guideline to use !
    Apologies if I have misunderstood you sam's mum
     
  12. sam's mum

    sam's mum Senior Member

    Southampton
    England English
    Yes Areyou Crazy I quite agree that it's simplistic. The point made to me was that French is a very logical language and that the possessive article is not required. It just helped me remember, that's all. Sorry if I've caused any confusion.
     
  13. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Yes, while it may help to understand, it's really a very poor guideline. Certainly, within a family, and also in many other situations, such as a spa, salon, or hospital, there are a ton of situations where people wash, brush, etc, other people's bodies.

    And speaking of such, for clarification, would you say:
    Il m'a lavé les cheveux. (He washed my hair.)
    And it also seems that in some situations, you would have to rely on context, such as when he washes her hair. (Il lui lave les cheveux.) Correct?
     
  14. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    "Lève la main" is correct but "Lave les mains" is not? Why wouldn't it be "Lève-toi la main"?
     
  15. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Don't mix up lever with laver

    Lève la main = Put your hand up
    Lève-toi la main :cross:

    Lave la main :cross:
    Lave les mains :cross:
    Lave les mains de ton frère = Wash your brother's hands
    Lave-toi la main = Wash your hand
    Lave-toi les mains = Wash your hands
     
  16. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    I'm not confusing laver and lever. My question was: They're both imperatives; if one requires "-toi" why doesn't the other one require it?
     
  17. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Sorry. I get your point now… Well, I'm not too sure, but the reason might be because the verb se lever (to get up) is intransitive. Therefore Lève-toi la main doesn't make sense…
     
  18. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Hmmm...:confused: According to my dictionary, lever is a transitive verb. Also, an intransitive verb cannot have an object, but main is the object of the verb in our sentence. (Lève la main.)

    I'm getting out of my "familiar zone" here, but could it be that lever is transitive, but se lever is intransitive?
     
  19. marget Senior Member

    With a verb such as lever, I think that if you do something to the body part, the verb should be reflexive. If you do something with the part of the body, it's non-reflexive.
     
  20. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    That's what I meant…

    I can't find a counterexample, so your explanation might be correct… :)
     
  21. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    I go back to my earlier post. If you use your hands to aid in the action, you use the reflexive. Otherwise, no.

    Lève la main. The hand goes up on its own.
    Lève-toi la main. One hand helps lift the other up.

    At least, that's how I see it.
     
  22. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    I suppose you could say: Il m'a lavé les cheveux, but I prefer, il m'a lavé la tête.

    Cheers!
     
  23. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Don't these two ideas contradict each other?
     
  24. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    If I understand Marget correctly, she means:

    to the body part - using the hand(s) to aid in the action
    with the body part - allowing the body part to act on its own.

    This would not be a contradiction to my statements.
     
  25. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    We would never use the latter; we would definitely use the former: Il m'a lavé les cheveux.

    To recap, I'd say:

    Lève la main
    → The hand performs the action ↔ Something is done with the body part ↔ The hand goes up on its own

    Lève-toi la main
    → The hand experiences the action ↔ Something is done to the body part ↔ One hand or any other body part or anything else helps lift the other hand up. (Obviously this is most likely a hand that would help the lift, but not necessarily…)

    Note that Lave-toi les mains is a special case since each hand helps wash the other one, so each hand both performs and experiences the washing…
     
  26. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Overall, this is pretty confusing, but I think it's because, as Maître Capello said, "Lave-toi les mains" is a special case. At any rate, I think I understand the following:

    1)
    "Lave-toi les mains" uses "-toi" because it's the reflexive verb se laver.
    "Lève la main" does not use "-toi" because it's non-reflexive (lever).


    2)
    "Lave-toi les mains" is sort of like "wash yourself", making it reflexive, whereas if you were to say, "wash the dog" you would say "Lave le chien."

    Someone please tell me I'm right!:)
     
  27. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Yes, you are! :)
     
  28. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Oh, good! (The little victories!:))
    Thanks again.
     

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