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For instance, if my shoulder still hurts, do I say:

  1. Mon épaule me fait encore mal.
  2. J'ai encore mal à l'épaule.

And both mean the same thing and there is no preference for one vs other?

2 Answers 2

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Both mean almost the same. "Mon épaule" could be seen as an "external" source of pain, whereas "J'ai encore mal à l'épaule" means there is no "external" source of pain, that it's your own body that hurts. If you replace "épaule" by "tête", use the second formula.

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    Vous pourriez peut-être mentionner que la seconde phrase signifie aussi « J'ai de nouveau mal à l'épaule. », selon le contexte.
    – LPH
    Jan 26, 2023 at 10:52
  • I think it should be made clear that the second form is usually preferred for internal sources of pain (i.e. from body parts) whereas the first form is the only option for external ones, except maybe figuratively (“j’ai mal au portefeuille”).
    – Didier L
    Jan 26, 2023 at 19:13
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As pointed out by @FCA69, "quelque chose me fait mal" means that the pain comes from something external, and continuously. You could even say sentences like: "Ma dimunution de salaire me fait mal".

However, "j'ai mal à" means that the pain is internal. I can only see examples with parts of your body: "J'ai mal à la tête", "J'ai mal au cœur", ... In no circumptances can you say "J'ai mal à la diminution de salaire" for instance.

In your example, "épaule" can be both seen as a part of yourself or an external cause. Indeed, you can consider that "yourself" is the center of your neuronal center (your brain) and that the shoulder is hence external. That's also why you shouldn't say "ma tête me fait mal" since your head is always "internal".

Finally, here is a Google Ngram graph, showing that "me fait mal" is more used that "j'ai mal à" (which is logical since most of the causes of pain are external):

Google Ngram graph


NB: adding "encore" to the sentence means "again". In those two sentences, the use of "encore" is slightly different but almost the same. I focused my answer on the expression of the pain and not on "encore" because of the title.

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  • Or maybe "j'ai mal à" has an artifically lower frequency in your ngrams because we say "J'ai mal au pied", not "J'ai mal à le pied".
    – Stef
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:48

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