FR: definite article or possessive adjective with body parts

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by troublems03, Nov 12, 2007.

  1. troublems03 New Member

    Australia - English
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2017
  2. 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"
  3. Oluc (Yvon)

    Oluc (Yvon) Banned

    Ottawa, Canada
    Français, English
    […] English is more possessive than French "He hurt his leg" as opposed to "Il s'est blessé la jambe" […]
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 2, 2013
  4. Reilyn

    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?
  5. RuK Senior Member

    Outside Paris
    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.
  6. Gutenberg

    Gutenberg Senior Member

    Province de Québec, Canada
    français international
    Ils secouent (hochent) la tête.
    Se laver les cheveux.

    ... leurs visages sont indiscernables...
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 1, 2013
  7. 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.

  8. robzuck Senior Member

    USA, English
    on this subject - a 10 year old francophone told me one could say:
    1) je me brosse les dents
    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?
  9. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    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.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2013
  10. Ala888 Senior Member

    quick question:
    would it be
    il y a quelque chose dans sa bouche
    il y a quelque chose dans le bouche de lui
  11. Nimls Member

    It would be "il y a quelque chose dans sa bouche".
    "il y a quelque chose dans le bouche de lui" is redundaunt ^^
  12. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
  13. yannalan Senior Member

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

    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.
  15. 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?
  16. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    I found the lyrics:
    We use the definite article when there is an action 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.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
  17. EpicBacon

    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?
  18. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    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.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
  19. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    J’aurais plutôt dit «mange-toi les yeux», sur l’exemple de «frotte-toi les yeux».
  20. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    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 suggérerais 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.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
  21. EpicBacon

    EpicBacon Senior Member

    North American Anglophone English
    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
  22. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    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.
  23. 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.
  24. Philippides

    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.
  25. rappeler New Member

    English - United States
    Thank you. Your response clears up that question.

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