Pain in Spanish: Dolor vs. Duele, and how to use each properly

Pain in Spanish: Dolor vs Duele and how to use each properly

What is the difference between dolor and duele – Don’t they both mean Pain in Spanish?

Dolor and duele aren’t too complicated to sort out. We have differences in meaning, and differences in use.

Simple differences in meaning:

  • dolor = pain
  • duele = hurt – derived from the verb doler (o-ue)

A clear understanding of what each term means, helps you understand their uses:

Dolor is a noun (pain). You commonly use dolor with 2 basic verbs: tener (to have) & sentir (to feel).

  • El paciente siente dolor. The patient feels pain.
  • El paciente tiene dolor. The patient has pain.
  • ¿Siente ud dolor en el abdomen? Do you feel pain in your abdomen?
  • ¿Tiene ud dolor en el abdomen? Do you have pain in your abdomen?

Dolor is the noun; you can generally say that you have or feel pain in (en) or of (de) any body part*.

Duele** is a verb form (from the verb doler**). Doler is a funny verb, it doesn’t work like most “normal” verbs in Spanish. When you use the verb doler, you technically have the body part as the subject and the person it’s hurting as the object. So, the usage looks like this:

  • Me duele la cabeza = The (my) head hurts me
  • Te duele la cabeza = The (your) head hurts you (tú form)
  • Le duele la cabeza = The (his/her/your) head hurts him or her or you (ud form)
  • Nos duelen las cabezas*** = The (our) heads hurt us
  • Les duelen las cabezas*** = The (their) heads hurt them or you all (uds)

You may be familiar with the verb gustar, which works the same way as doler. Me gusta(n), Te gusta(n), etc.

Listen for how people use the two words dolor & duele – you’ll start to observe the patterns above.

A few medical Spanish resources you might be interested in:

*While you can technically say Tengo dolor de (en) any body part, it is much more common to use the Me duele body part construction when you’re not talking about the typical aches & pains. 

**Doler is a stem changing verb as well (o-ue). When you conjugate it the o>ue: duelo (I hurt), dueles (you hurt), duele (s/he you hurt), dolemos -NO CHANGE (we hurt), duelen (they, you all hurt).

***Since the head is the subject, when we’re talking about more than 1 head, the verb doler is plural (Me duele la cabeza vs Nos duelen las cabezas)

Btw: If you’re working on learning Spanish for your healthcare career, we have the medical Spanish you need!

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Keep up the good work speaking responsible Spanish to your patients! Check out our other books, classes & products to help you learn medical Spanish!

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