Going to the Doctor in Spanish
The first couple of times I traveled abroad, I got extremely sick. One time I had a nasty parasite, which is considered very common for foreigners, but the second time I got pneumonia, a pretty common infection. The thing is, you can’t guarantee you won’t get sick while you’re abroad. While it may be more common for foreigners to get a parasite, you can also just as easily get the flu, a rash, or an infection. Hopefully, you won’t have any health issues while traveling, but it’s best to be prepared! You don’t want to end up feeling sick and not be able to communicate your symptoms to the doctor (trust me, I’ve been there). To help you avoid that, I have put together a list of common words and phrases you may use at the doctor’s office or hospital. Granted, this is not a comprehensive list – that would make for a never-ending blog! If you are concerned about a particular organ or disease that is not on this list, be sure to look it up before going to the see the doctor.
Let’s start with some basic vocabulary to get yourself to the doctor and to explain your symptoms.
Now, doctors often use vocabulary that the beginner Spanish learner might not understand. For example, they won’t say ‘poop and pee,’ but instead heces y urina. The first time I heard heces from a doctor, I had to stop and think about it because I had never used that word in conversation before! Check out these phrases to describe what’s wrong and be sure to write them down. I don’t want you to be in a situation where you can’t properly describe what you are feeling.
When talking about pain, you need to remember two very important things about the structure of Spanish phrases. First of all, you need to include a pronoun with the verb doler. For example, we don’t say duele la cabeza. You must include a reflexive pronoun, like me, before the verb for this to make sense. Me duele la cabeza. It is literally saying that ‘my head hurts me.’ If you look at this sentence, you’ll also notice that the subject comes at the end of the sentence. Cabeza is the subject, not me. This is a great example of how fluid Spanish can be! While we can write this sentence either way, – la cabeza me duele / me duele la cabeza – it is much more common to use the latter form. It may be confusing at first, but if you practice the phrase me duele, it will come easily to you in no time!
The… or My?
You might have also noticed that instead of saying mi cabeza (my head), we say la cabeza (the head). Usually, when we talk about the parts of our body, we use the regular article (el /la /los /las) instead of a possessive article (mi[s] /tu[s] /su[s] /nuestro[s]). This may seem very weird to you if you are new to the Spanish language. Once you start using this form, though, it will become more natural.
Remember, these rules apply to other verbs as well, not just doler. Check out these examples and practice using different body parts!
Me duele la pierna. – My leg hurts.
¿Te duele el estómago? – Does your stomach hurt?
Le arde la garganta. – His/her throat burns.
Me pica la cabeza. – My head itches.
Sentir / Sentirse
Did you notice how some of our handy-dandy phrases used the verb sentir (no reflexive pronoun), while others used the verb sentirse (with a reflexive pronoun)? If not, go back, look at the chart, and identify the sentences that use sentir and sentirse. Both of these verbs translate to ‘feel’ in English, but they are used in different situations in Spanish. Can you identify why some sentences use the reflexive pronoun while others do not? If not, don’t worry! I’ll make it easy for you:
Sentir answers the question ‘what.’
What do you feel? I feel strong pain. Siento un dolor fuerte.
What do you feel? I feel great sadness. Siento una gran tristeza.
Sentirse answers the question ‘how.’
How do you feel? I feel sick. Me siento enfermo.
How do you feel? I feel excited. Me siento emocionado.
In other words, sentirse is followed by an adjective describing the subject. Me siento enfermo. Enfermo describes the (unspoken) subject yo. The verb sentir is followed by a noun or by a phrase starting with que. Siento un dolor fuerte. What do you feel? You feel strong pain.
Let’s look at the examples from our “What’s Wrong?” chart above:
Siento que me voy a desmayar.
Here, we have a phrase starting with que directly after the verb, so we must use sentir.
Siento un hormigueo en los dedos.
This sentence answers the question ‘what do you feel.’ Since it talks about ‘what’ and not ‘how’ we feel, we must use sentir.
Me siento muy mal.
This sentence talks about how you feel, so we must include the reflexive pronoun, or the verb sentirse.
Me siento mareado/a.
Just like the previous sentence, this one answers the question ‘how.’ Because of that, we must use the verb sentirse.
El dolor se siente como un cuchillo.
Se siente como si alguien me estuviera apretando.
These last two sentences seem a little different. While they do answer the question ‘how,’ the verbs are not followed by adjectives that describe the subject. Here, we see examples of the passive voice referring to what an object feels like. Since it is still answering the question ‘how,’ and because the passive voice commonly uses the pronoun se (se vende, se busca), we use the pronominal verb sentirse.
The next time you want to talk about feeling something in Spanish, think about whether you are describing what you feel or how you feel. If the answer is what, use sentir. If the answer is how, use sentirse. Furthermore, keep in mind that if you use a phrase starting with que after the verb, you must use the word sentir.
Write it Down and Study Up
There are a lot of things you need to memorize. To make it easier for yourself, write these phrases down, pin them on the wall, or download the chart and practice them whenever you can. Even if you are just practicing them on yourself, that is better than nothing! Repeat the phrases you see here, and then when you go to make your own sentences in a real conversation, you will remember these sample sentences and use them as a guideline for your new sentences.
How do you feel after studying these words and phrases? ¿Te sientes confundido? ¿Sientes que estás listo para hablar con el doctor en español? I hope this blog helped you expand your vocabulary and prepare you for your next doctor’s visit. If you have questions, want to learn more vocabulary, or would like more practice with some tricky verbs like sentir, doler, and arder, sign up for a FREE class with one of our native Spanish-speaking teachers. They can explain these concepts further, give you more materials to practice with, and help you gain the confidence to use these ideas in conversation. Get started today!