FR: definite article or possessive adjective with body parts - reflexive verbs

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troublems03

New Member
Australia - English
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  • Lil_Dave

    Senior Member
    France - French
    You generally use the possessive only if there are no or more than one persons refered in the sentence :
    "Son bras est cassé" but "Elle a le bras cassé"
    "Elle grimpa sur ses genoux" (not her own knees) but "Elle se blessa aux genoux"
     

    Reilyn

    Member
    English and Chinese, United States
    I've always been confused about this.

    When you say "shake their heads", would you say "secouent leurs têtes", or "secouent les têtes"? "Les têtes" sounds funny, for some reason.


    Also, are all body parts referred to as "le/la/les", as opposed to "mon/ma/mes"? Like you would say "laver les cheveux", but are there any cases when you would say mes?

    Also, would "visages" use "leurs" or "les"? Would, for example, "leurs visages sont indiscernables, mais il est évident que leurs expressions soient remplies de dérision" be correct?
     

    RuK

    Senior Member
    English/lives France
    You'd say "je vais me laver les cheveux". It does seem odd at first. Je me suis cassé le bras. Je me suis fait mal aux genoux.

    Ils se secouent la tête, I think. Leurs visages sont flous.
     

    abhunter

    New Member
    US, English
    When the subject(s) is/are doing something to or with their own body, it will always be le/la/les.
    Ils se tiennent le main.
    Je me brosse les dents.
    In other cases, it takes the possessive.

    La manche de cette chemise est plus longue que mon bras.

     

    robzuck

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    on this subject - a 10 year old francophone told me one could say:
    1) je me brosse les dents
    or:
    2) je brosse mes dents.

    an adult told me that this was nonesense.
    do children sometimes speak this way?
    is it a comon error?
    is it incomprehensible?
    thanks.
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    It is definitely not incomprehensible and I would expect some children to actually say it. But the correct sentence is the first one.
     
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    spruceroot

    Member
    Swedish - Sweden
    I am a bit confused concering laver and se laver. This is what I've understood:
    se laver = to wash oneself
    ex.
    I wash myself = Je me lave
    They wash themselves = Ils se lavent

    Now, if I want to say that "I wash my hands", I know that you can say "Je me lave les mains". But, could I also say "Je lave mes mains"?
    And if I wash his hands, would it be "Je lave ses mains" or "Je se lave les mains"?

    Merci
     

    spruceroot

    Member
    Swedish - Sweden
    Okay. So it's the only correct way to say that? Cause I'm thinking "Je lave" is "I wash". If I said "I wash his car", then it would be "Je lave sa voiture". So why is it incorrect to say "Je lave ses mains"? I'm still washing something he owns in a way. His house, his car, his hands...
     

    Ala888

    Senior Member
    English/Chinese
    quick question:
    would it be
    il y a quelque chose dans sa bouche
    il y a quelque chose dans le bouche de lui
     

    yannalan

    Senior Member
    france, french, breton
    Je lave mes dents est un bretonnisme, très largement employé par ici par les non-bretonnants.
     

    EpicBacon

    Senior Member
    North American Anglophone English
    Hey, so, apparently, one is not allowed to use possessive pronouns when discussing body parts. However, I sometimes see this being applied and other times, I don't. Specifically, I'm referring to the Disney song, "Ce Reve Bleu".

    So, if someone could explain this, that would be fantastic.
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    I can't see the link between the use of possessive pronouns and "Ce rêve bleu", at least in the title. There are neither possessive pronoun, nor body part.
    Do you mean some of the song lyrics? Can you give an example?
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    I found the lyrics:
    N'as-tu jamais laissé parler ton coeur ?

    Je vais ouvrir tes yeux
    Aux délices et aux merveilles
    De ce voyage en plein ciel
    Au pays du rêve bleu.
    […]
    Ne ferme pas les yeux !
    We use the definite article when an action is performed on the body part.

    J'ouvre les yeux.
    Je t'ouvre les yeux.
    Tu fermes les yeux.
    Ferme les yeux.
    (2nd person singular imperative → tu is implied)
    Tu me fends le cœur.

    This is not the case in the 1st quoted sentence, so we don't use the definite article: laisser parler son cœur.

    Now, the 2nd quoted phrase is a bit different because ouvrir les yeux is used in a figurative sense with a complement introduced by the preposition à (contracted to aux): ouvrir les yeux aux délices et aux merveilles
    Without any complement, we would definitely say, Je vais t'ouvrir les yeux. Besides, the original phrase could also read, Je vais t'ouvrir les yeux aux délices… In that specific example, both wordings are possible.
     
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    EpicBacon

    Senior Member
    North American Anglophone English
    Let's see if I got this! If I were to say.. uhm., "Eat your eyes"

    "Mange les yeux!"

    If I were to say, "I eat my eyes" I would say, "Je me mange les yeux" Literally, "I eat myself, eyes." Am I correct?
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    I'm afraid not. :) Because those actions are atypical to say the least ;), we wouldn't use the definite article. In your first example, we wouldn't know whose or which eyes we should eat: our own, someone else's, those of the fish in our plate?

    Mange les yeux = Eat the eyes (of the animal or person we just talked about, or which are clear from context)
    Mange tes yeux = Eat your eyes

    Je mange mes yeux = I eat my eyes
    Je me mange les yeux → This is not possible because you cannot possibly eat your eyes without plucking them out first! :p

    It would however be possible to say, Je me frotte les yeux or Je me ronge les ongles, because it is possible to do so without removing them first.
     
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    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Oui, effectivement, je n'avais pas pensé à cette solution-là… Il faut dire que me manger les yeux est évidemment quelque chose que je fais tous les jours ! :D Mais comme je le disais précédemment, pour pouvoir les manger, il faut d'abord les arracher, ce qui rend ce tour moins naturel pour moi. J'imagine en effet les yeux dans une assiette et la belle-mère qui dit à son beau-fils : Mange tes yeux ! comme une mère normale dirait : Mange tes épinards !

    Pour reprendre des exemples plus vraisemblables, on peut remarquer que l'on dit :

    Frotte-toi les yeux, et non : Frotte les yeux (ce qui laisserait l'interlocuteur interloqué pour déterminer de quels yeux la personne parle)

    mais :

    Ouvre les yeux, et non : Ouvre-toi les yeux (ce qui suggérerait que l'on demande à la personne de se percer les yeux !)

    Le réflexif indique une aide extérieure (généralement les mains) nécessaire à l'action, contrairement aux mouvements propres de l'organe en question : on se frotte les yeux à l'aide des mains, mais les yeux peuvent s'ouvrir tout seuls.
     
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    EpicBacon

    Senior Member
    North American Anglophone English
    It would however be possible to say, Je me frotte les yeux or Je me ronge les ongles, because it is possible to do so without removing them first.
    Oh, wow! My brain is hurt. To me, it makes me absolutely no sense that you can say "I rub myself, eyes" but not "I eat myself, eyes". Grr! Why can't I understand? :p
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    In real life, no one ever eats their own eyes. It is more common to eat mutton eyes, which is not very appetizing, and your mother will say «mange tes yeux», as she would say «mange tes brocolis». Please come up with realistic examples.

    Besides, «frotte-toi les yeux» means «Rub the eyes to yourself» not «rub yourself eyes», as you seem to believe.
     

    Gijoe

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Ok. With all this NO, NO, NO to je lave mes mains, I see a french kid book and french native teacher teach this type of sentences: je lave mon visage, mes bras, etc.

    Can someone tell me what is going on?

    Thanks.
     
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    nld

    Senior Member
    French
    On the one hand, children books use very simple structures, and reflexive pronouns are difficult for young children! My son used to say things like "J'ai cogné ma tête/mon pied", but it's really "kid language". (Now he's 20 and he says "Je me suis cogné la tête"...)
    On the other hand, I have the feeling that a sentence like "elle lava ses mains/son visage" IS correct, and could be READ in a book. It's just that we never say that in everyday life!
     

    rappeler

    New Member
    English - United States
    Would someone please explain to me why the definite article is used in the first of the following two sentences but the possessive in the second:
    "J'ai les yeux noirs et les cheveux bruns et frisés."
    "J'ai mis mes mains sur mes genoux."
    My grammar book says it is because the possessor is not evident in the second sentence but that makes no sense to me.
    Thank you.
     

    Philippides

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    You could put your hands on somebody else's knees or why not take somebody else's hands to put them on your knees!
    Nevertheless, if you say "J'ai mis les mains sur les genoux" this would be perfectly correct and I would understand that you talk about your hands and your knees.
     

    Jesuisunebêche

    New Member
    English-UK
    So I came across this phrase today :
    Elle passa la main dans ses cheveux
    So is this a stylistic thing? (she's just had her hair done in the short story :p) or is there a grammatical reason I'm missing?
     

    Jesuisunebêche

    New Member
    English-UK
    A bit more context would help. Is she with somebody else? That sentence indeed suggests that she ran her hand through someone else's hair.
    Nah, she's on her own in the car:
    Elle passa la main dans ses cheveux noirs qu'elle avait fait teindre la veille, en bas,...

    The story is l'objet d'art by Jean Paul Daoust (from Québec I think?), I don't think that should change the grammar though
     

    atcheque

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    This is idiomatic:
    Elle se passa la main dans les cheveux.
    Elle se passa la main dans ses cheveux noirs.
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Elle passa la main dans ses cheveux noirs qu'elle avait fait teindre la veille
    The adjective noirs and the relative clause are modifiers, which change things quite a bit as you shouldn't use the possessive adjective in that case.

    Without any modifier:

    Elle se passa la main dans les cheveux. :tick::thumbsup: (most natural way to put it)
    Elle se passa sa main dans les/ses cheveux. :cross: (incorrect because of the double "possessive" se & sa in the COI and COD)
    Elle se passa la main dans ses cheveux. :thumbsdown: (not really incorrect, but sloppy because of the double "possessive" se & ses, the latter being part of an adverbial phrase, not the COD)
    Elle passa la main dans ses cheveux. :tick: (correct but ambiguous as it can also refer to somebody else's hair)
    Elle passa sa main dans les cheveux. :tick: (but it most likely refers to somebody else's hair)
    Elle passa la main dans les cheveux. :thumbsdown: (no reference to herself in any of the pronouns or determiners; it would refer to somebody else's hair)​

    With a modifier (adjective and/or relative clause):

    Elle (se) passa la/sa main dans les cheveux noirs qu'elle avait fait teindre la veille. :thumbsdown: (it would refer to some black hair – probably cut from someone else – but not hers)
    Elle se passa la main dans ses cheveux noirs qu'elle avait fait teindre la veille. :thumbsdown: (not incorrect, but sloppy because of the double "possessive" se & ses)
    Elle passa la main dans ses cheveux noirs qu'elle avait fait teindre la veille. :tick:
    Elle passa la main dans les cheveux noirs qu'elle avait fait teindre la veille. :thumbsdown: (no reference to herself in any of the pronouns or determiners; it would refer to somebody else's hair)​
     
    Following on from this could someone please help me understand why some of these two sentences (found in a CoronaVirus poster I am using with my year 11s) are reflexive and some are not
    Je retrousse mes manches. (not reflexive because your sleeves are not part of you)
    Je me mouille les mains. (reflexive because your hands are part of you)
    Je frotte mes mains avec le savon. Why not reflexive? Because you are adding more detail (avec le savon) ?
    As-tu bien lavé toute la surface de tes mains? Not se laver because it is talking about 'the whole part' of your hand, as opposed to just 'your hands'?
    Je me rince les mains. (reflexive because your hands are part of you)
    Je me seche les mains. (reflexive because your hands are part of you)

    Thank you
     

    Bezoard

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Je frotte mes mains avec le savon. Why not reflexive? Because you are adding more detail (avec le savon) ?
    On pourrait bien sûr dire : je me frotte les mains avec le savon.
    Mais le fait d'avoir renoncé à la tournure réflexive "détache" en quelque sorte les mains du corps. On les considère de manière moins subjective et plus objective comme des objets à part entière qu'il faut frotter.
     
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