Feeling Sick, Part II: “Was fehlt Ihnen?”

"Was fehlt Ihnen?" U-Bahn mirror.

Mir geht es nicht gut. Ich kann nicht singen. Ich gehe zum Arzt…
The doctor will most likely ask, “Was fehlt Ihnen?”
The verb fehlen (to miss, to be missing, to lack, to be lacking) has a Dativobjekt, an object that expressed in dative, which we mostly place at the beginning of the sentence.

Dem Mann fehlt Talent. Der Frau fehlt das Geld.

Regarding the health condition the verb fehlen is used
a) to inquire about the health of another person (Was fehlt Ihnen?),
b) to express a healthy condition with the negative.
Mir fehlt nichts. Dem Patienten fehlt nichts, er ist gesund. Ihnen fehlt nichts. Dir fehlt nichts. Ihr fehlt nichts. Mir fehlt nichts.

When the doctor asks, “Was fehlt Ihnen?”, he or she expects a more or less specific statement.
“Ich fühle mich nicht wohl,” (I do not feel well) is a good entrance, but it will trigger further questions.
The verb fühlen can be used
a) as a transitive verb, meaning it leads to an object, a noun that describes a feeling.
Ich fühle Wut, Angst, Traurigkeit etc.
b) as an impersonal verb that has no object other than es
Ach, ich fühle es or Ach, ich fühl’s.
c) as an reflexive verb that expresses our well-being or not so well-being:
Ich fühle mich nicht wohl, ich fühle mich nicht gut.
Ich fühle mich hervorragend, ich fühle mich gut.
We use also the comparative and superlative for gut and schlecht.
Ich fühle mich besser (not: ich bin besser – you are always better than others).
Ich fühle mich schlechter als gestern (worse than yesterday).
We can report a cold in several ways.
Ich habe eine Erkältung. Here we state the fact with a noun.
Ich bin erkältet. Here we state the fact with an adjective, drawn from the reflexive verb sich erkälten.
Ich habe mich erkältet. We state the fact with the reflexive verb in present perfect.

You can be more specific:
Ich habe Schnupfen. (common cold)
Ich habe Husten. (cough)
Ich habe Fieber. (fever).
Ich habe eine Grippe. (flu)

We can report pain in two ways:

a) Ich habe Schmerzen.
Der Schmerz means “pain,” but in singular it expresses mostly emotional pain. For physical pain we take the plural die Schmerzen.
Of course, you have to be specific. Therefore, you create compound nouns.
Ich habe Kopfschmerzen, Halsschmerzen, Schulterschmerzen, Rückenschmerzen, Bauchschmerzen.
If we refer to pain in limbs, we use the preposition in + dative.
Ich habe Schmerzen im Bein. Ich habe Schmerzen im Knie, im Arm, in der Hand, im Finger.
b) Mir tut XYZ weh.
Here, we begin with the dative personal pronoun. The separable verb wehtun means to ache.
Mir tut der Kopf weh.
Mir tun die Ohren weh.
Mir tut ein Zahn weh. A useful phrase for der Zahnarzt ( dentist).
Gute Besserung.
Next update: Sunday, March 11.

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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