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Normally it should be Pourquoi a-t-il mal à l'estomac (1). But I would like to know if 'son estomac' is also okay.

If it is gramatically correct to say Pourquoi a-t-il mal à son estomac (2), does it make a change in the meaning?

Note that I got sentence (1) from Duolingo.com as the correct translation of Why does his stomach hurt?, where sentence (2) is marked wrong. In this link, however, there are hints that sentence (2) might be correct too. So what would you say on this?

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  • See also french.stackexchange.com/questions/43563
    – jlliagre
    Jul 25 at 8:21
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    @jlliagre Thank you. The link does not completely reject using possessive determiners especially when there is ambiguity, but mentions the extreme level of redundancy in most cases. Still, this logic might differ from language to language. In some other language it might be mandatory to use possessive determiners with body parts, in contrast to French.
    – Xfce4
    Jul 25 at 15:12
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As someone explained, this very usage example is criticized as pleonastic, from a lexical standpoint in Le bon usage. Consider it is showcased in a list containing "°Un petit nain. °Reculer en arrière. °Sortir dehors. °Une ADJONCTION d'eau SUPPLÉMENTAIRE. J'ai mal à MON ventre. [...]" (Le bon usage, Grevisse et Goosse, éd. Duculot, 14e, § 15). I believe these are all absolutely grammatical, it's just you can't have pain to someone else's stomach so in terms of semantics it doesn't add anything; it still parses just fine. So you have to look into cases where it adds something else, such as a different register etc. Generally, I would think the reaction described elsewhere is typical whereas the reason why it may not work for Duolingo is alluded to in another answer (set expression etc.), and it's a difficult topic for a correct/incorrect sort of analysis.

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You're right to ask, since Duolingo is a poor authority on actual usage.

However, in this case I would say it's right. "Avoir mal à" is such a fixed expression that it sounds bizarre to combine it with the possessive. (However, as you've since read in the comments & chat, this is the "official", prescriptive position — that it's overly pleonastic — and doesn't quite match actual usage, at least before education quashes the impulse to use the possessive.)

If you were to use the possessive, you'd want to change the expression linked to it. Even changing à to dans would be an improvement in my mind (I'm in pain -- Where? -- My stomach, as opposed to My stomach hurts). But better would be something like "Mon estomac me fait mal," less common but still idiomatic.

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  • Thank you. I did not know you could use 'dans' in place of 'à'. You said it would be bizarre to combine "Avoir mal à" with possessive, but can we call it outright wrong? Why is it not perceived as an ordinary redundancy?
    – Xfce4
    Jul 25 at 15:20
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    The chat comment matches what I wrote earlier (1st comment to the question): (Redundancy) might also be used when talking to kids to make clearer what is said. Reciprocally, redundancy is what naturally comes to kids lips when talking. So it's more that we are taught not to say j'ai mal à mon estomac than something "innate". Mon estomac me fait mal is fine, by the way. J'ai mal à mon pied droit is quite common too, competes with j'ai mal au pied droit, and j'ai mal à mon pied is listed as a Belgicism.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 25 at 23:13
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    Sure, Belgians might use it with any body part of them, and not just Belgians. Duolingo is notorious for its sometimes excessive rigidity regarding what is considered correct and incorrect. It often has a prescriptive approach that ignore real life usage. J'ai mal à mon ventre is described as a pléonasme criticable by Grevisse in Le bon usage, that clearly means it is not incorrect. There are even cases where the possessive is always used in French despite the fact it is equally redundant: le chien perd ses poils (never le chien perd les poils).
    – jlliagre
    Jul 27 at 13:57
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    @jlliagre Very clear explanation. Thank you very much for your efforts.
    – Xfce4
    Jul 28 at 10:54
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    I don't think it's that different. I upvoted your reply because you gave the actual reason why Duolingo rejected the possessive alternative. That's what is taught and that's what expects a site more leaned to prescriptive grammar. My comments just tell why child, relaxed or regional usage can differ.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 28 at 20:53
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It is okay. As a french native speaker it sounds a little wierd. "Il a mal à l'estomac" is definitely more natural but using "son estomac" is gramatically correct and perfectly understandable as well.

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  • I second this. It does not sound that strange. Maybe a bit informal.
    – Winston
    Jul 31 at 0:18

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