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прийти мне в голову = « me venir à l'esprit »

с кривой душой = « à l'esprit torturé »

в своем уме = « sain d'esprit »

I'm a bit fuzzy on the difference in usage between these three synonyms, especially as you can express each of them with the noun « esprit {mind} » in French.

To my mind, "голова" seems to be about what you are thinking, while "душа" centres round your feelings, even your personalities, whereas "ум" refers to your intellect.

As to when to use which of the three, I wonder if they are ultimately linked to their corresponding idiomatic expressions?

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Your assumptions are generally correct. In your examples the words are used figuratively. There're some set phrases with them, so you usually say сломать голову and very rarely сломать ум, for example.

Голова mainly means a head, a part of a body, but figuratively may be used as a synonym of ум (thinking ability) in several set phrases.

Прийти в голову (also прийти на ум) - spring to mind

Сломать голову - tie oneself into knots (if someone injures his head you use the verb разбить instead).

Душа - literally the spiritual part of a person. But also used to refer to person's inner character and feelings. In older days mental disorders were referred as душевные болезни (hence душевнобольной - the word is still in use).

Он добрая душа/у него добрая душа - he is a good-natured person

У меня душа болит - I take [it] very personally.

Ум - intellect and figuratively also sanity. As if when you lose your intellect you become insane.

Сойти с ума - become demented; go mad.

В своем уме - sane.

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  • As for injuring your head, doesn't разбить really mean "to smash open" or "break apart?"
    – OmarL
    Apr 4 '18 at 13:39
  • 1
    And I think you can say "у меня на душе так грустно", I am feeling too miserable
    – OmarL
    Apr 4 '18 at 13:40
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    @Wilson One of the meaning of разбить is "to cause damage to body part by hitting with a lot of force".
    – AlexVB
    Apr 4 '18 at 16:06
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I'd try here again my English approximations.

  • Голова is "head", but also (as mentioned) all related to thinking, пришло в голову = "came to my mind".
  • Ум is "intellect", also in figurative sense: "sanity".
  • Душа is "soul".

The fun part begins in the figurative speech: сойти с ума ("to loose sanity") vs. душевнобольной ("insane", "mental").

To pepper up with a 20th century quote:

«Холодная голова, горячее сердце и чистые руки»

loosely translated, "cold blood, passionate heart, trusty hands" – apparently, those are the desired properties of a good KGB (well, then-VChK) agent as mentioned by its founder.

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