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Using 'Doler'

Irregular Verb Usually Means 'To Cause Pain'


sore toe

Me duele el dedo. (My toe is hurting me.)

Photo by Eduardo González López de Murillas; licensed via Creative Commons.

The verb doler, usually meaning "to cause pain," is sometimes confusing for beginning Spanish students because they try to use it to directly translate the English verb "to hurt."

Indeed, doler often is used in translating sentences with "hurt." But a different sentence structure sometimes needs to be used in Spanish than in English. See the pattern in these sentences:

  • My tooth hurts. Me duele el diente.
  • It hurts me to love you. Me duele amarte.
  • My brother's attitude hurts me. Me duele la altitude de mi hermano.
  • Does your head hurt? ¿Te duele la cabeza?
  • My son's throat hurts. A mi hijo le duele la garganta.

Note, first, that doler takes an indirect-object pronoun (as in le in the final example). Then, note that the pronoun refers to the person who is experiencing the pain, not what is causing the pain as is often the case in English (see the first example above).

It is usual, as in the above examples, to place the subject of doler after the verb, but it isn't required. Thus, you could say either "me duele el oído" or "el oído me duele" for "I have an earache," but the former is much more common.

In some ways, using doler to translate "hurt" is similar to using gustar to translate "like." For example, to translate the sentence "I like the book," you could say, "Me gusta el libro," which literally means "the book pleases me." Similarly, to say, "My head hurts," you could say, "Me duele la cabeza," which literally means "the head hurts me."

One of the peculiarities of Spanish that you may have noticed in some of the examples above is that Spanish often doesn't use the equivalent of "my" when referring to body parts when using doler (and in many other instances). See how the first example says el diente, not mi diente. The same is true in examples such as these:

  • Me duelen los ojos al leer. My eyes hurt when I read.
  • Si te duele el pie es mejor que vayas a un doctor. If your foot hurts, it is better to go to a doctor.
  • Nos duelen las manos y las rodillas. Our hands and knees hurt.

Doler can be used for emotional as well as physical pain: Me duele que no me llamaron, I am hurt that they didn't call me.

Most of the time, as in all of the examples so far, doler is used in the third person. However, in a usage that isn't particularly common it is sometimes used reflexively to refer to being in pain, physically or emotionally. The translation used varies with context:

  • Me duelo mucho. I'm in a lot of pain.
  • Me duelo por la enfermedad que tiene el niño. I feel bad about the child's illness.
  • Nos dolimos de la muerte del presidente. We got upset about the president's death.

Doler is conjugated irregularly, in much the same way as mover: If the stem is stressed, the -o- becomes -ue-.

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