Spanish Indirect and Direct object pronouns

In English there are pronouns “I, you, he, she, we, they”, and there are pronouns “me, you, him, her, us, them”. There are analogues in Spanish, however they are more complicated, because there are direct and indirect object pronouns, and pronouns with a preposition.

The table below shows the Spanish analogues of English pronouns “me, you, him, her, us, them”.

Who?Direct objectIndirect objectWith preposition
Yomeme
tete
Éllole/se*él
Ellalale/se*ella
Ustedlale/se*usted
Nosotros(as)nosnosnosotros(as)
Vosotros(as)ososvosotros(as)
Ellos(as)los(as)les/se*ellos(as)
Ustedeslosles/se*ustedes

*- Le,Les placed before Lo, La, Los, Las become SE

And the first question here is: what is the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns?

Direct object pronoun indicates an object of an action. Hint phrases are: “I can see (whom? What?)”, “I use (whom? what?)” “I do (what?)”

Indirect object pronoun indicates an indirect object of an action. Hint phrases are: “I give (to whom? to what?)”, “I do it (for whom? For what?)”

In English language the direct and indirect object pronouns match. However we can make some examples to show the difference between direct and indirect objects:

I give it to him – “it” is direct and “him” is indirect objects of the action “give” in this sentence.

We will send him to you – The action is “send”, its direct object is “him”, its indirect object is “you”.

They do it for us – the action is “do”, its direct object is “it”, its indirect object is “us”.

And in Spanish:

Ella lo ve – She sees him/it (direct)

Nosotros los necesitamos – We need them (direct)

Ellos nos explican – They explain to us (indirect)

Ustedes me prometieron – You promised me (indirect)

¿Por qué vosotros le prohibisteis? – Why did you prohibit him/her? (indirect)

Te recordaré siempre  – I will remember you always (direct)

Analogue of English pronoun ‘it’:

The direct object pronouns pronouns LO and LA can be translated the following ways:

Lo – him, it;

La – her, it;

They all can mean “it”, and it depends on grammatical gender of the object that we describe by this pronoun:

Yo compro el libro – I buy the book (el libro – masculine)

Yo lo compro – I buy it (it – masculine object)

Yo compro la comida – I buy food (la comida – feminine)

Yo la compro – I buy it (it – feminine object)

And as you can see, the pronouns Me, Te, Nos, Os match for direct and indirect objects.

When a sentence contains both direct and indirect objects, the indirect pronoun is always placed in front of the direct one:

Su jefe se lo dio – Her boss gave it to her (se – indirect, lo – direct)

No te lo dijimos – We didn’t tell it to you (te – indirect, lo – direct)

¿Por qué no se lo ayudará? – Why it doesn’t help me? (le – indirect, lo – direct)

It was already mentioned before that le,les become SE in front of lo, los, la, las, here are some more practical examples:

Nosotros les se lo damos – We give it to them

Por qué él no le se la da? – Why he doesn’ give it to her?

Ella le se lo dio – She gave it to him

What’s more: when we use a verb in infinitive, the pronoun (me, te, la, le, nos, os, los, las, les) is placed in the ending of a verb or in the beginning the sentence:

Ayudar – to help, Ayudarnos – to help us

No quiero preguntarte – I don’t want to ask you

Te no quiero preguntar – I don’t want tp ask you

Yo puedo explicarte – I can explain you

Te puedo explicar – I can explain you

¿Cuándo quierías llamarnos? – When did you want to call us?

¿Cuándo nos quierías llamar? – When did you want to call us?

And, an infinitive verb can be accompanied by both direct and indirect object pronouns at the same time. The following examples show equal expressions:

Quiero decírtelo (te + lo) – I want to tell it to you

Te lo quiero decir – I want to tell it to you

Necesitamos comprarselo (se + lo) – We need to buy it for him/her/them. Don’t forget that SE equals le/les when it is placed before lo, la, los, las.

Se lo necesitamos comprar – We need to buy it for him/her/them

¿Ustedes pueden darnoslos? (nos + los) – Сan you give them to us?

¿Nos los pueden dar Ustedes? – can you give them to us?

Also, these pronouns can be used in the following ways:

  • Clarification and avoiding ambiguity

As you could notice, the indirect object pronoun LE can have many meanings, i.e it can mean “him, her, it, you(formal)”. That’s why it can cause ambiguity, for example:

Le digo – I say him/her/it/you(formal)

Yo le di – I gave her/him/it/you(formal)

Ella se lo compra – She buys it for him/her/them/it/you(formal)

No se lo va a ayudar – It is not going to help him / her / them / it / you(formal)

Le escribo un mensaje – I write a message to him / her/ it / you(formal)

As you can see, there is ambiguity between “her, him, them, it, you(formal)” in such sentences in a context where the recipient of the action is not identified. If we want to clarify the object or person – receiver of the action, we have to add A+OBJECT:

Le digo a Pablo – I say it to Pablo

Yo le di a ella – I gave it to her

Ella se lo compra a su hermano – She buys it for her brother

No se lo va a ayudar a ellos – it is not going to help them

Le escribo un mensaje a mi madre – I write a message to my mother

  • Emphasis

One can emphasize a recipient of an action by adding the same formula A+OBJECT:

Yo la veo – I see her

Yo la veo a ella, pero a los demás no – I see her, but not others. (los  demás  – others). This expression emphasizes that I see exactly her but not anyone else

Nadie me da un consejo – Nobody gives me an advice

Nadie me da un consejo a mí* – Nobody gives me an advice, this expression emphasizes that nobody gives an advice exactly to me but not anyone else (*- this is a pronoun with preposition)

Pronouns with prepositions

And finally, we have one more category here – Personal pronouns with preposition. For example, with DE, A, POR, PARA, CON, EN and all others. All you need to memorize is only MÍ and TÍ, all others are the same as initial.

Examples

¿Por qué no quieres hacerlo conmigo? – Why don’t you want to do it with me?

¿Qué hará ella con nosotros? – What will she do with us?

Quiero bailar contigo – I want to dance with you

Nadie puede cantar con ella – Nobody can sing with her

The personal “A”

When the direct object of an action is a person (animated object), we must use the preposition “A” before that. The personal “a” is used only when the direct object is a person:

Yo llamo a mi amiga – I call my friend. “Mi amiga” is the direct object of the action “yo llamo”, and this is a person, so we must use the preposition “a” before it.

Nosotros vemos a nuestros padres – We see our parents. “Nosotros vemos” – action, “nuestros padres” – direct object as a person.

Ella ama a su gato – She loves her cat

¿A quien tú amas? – Who do you love?

Los padres apoyan a sus niños – The parents support their children

The rule A+el = Al is applied here too:

¿Tú viste al director? – Did you see the director?

Nosotros conocemos al autor de este libro – We know the author of this book

 

When the personal “a” is NOT used

  • When the direct object is not a person (inanimate object):

Bebo la cerveza – I drink beer

Ella conduce un autobús – She drives a bus

  • With TENER – to have:

Tengo muchos amigos – I have many friends

Tenemos una hermana – We have one sister

  • With HAY – there is:

Hay cinco personas aquí – there are five persons here

Hay una chica que me gusta – there is one girl that I like

  • When the direct object is indefinite person:

Ellos llaman un policía – They call a policeman

Él necesita nuevos empleos – He needs new employees

  • With animals that are not pets:

Su hija vio un elefante en el zoo – His daughter saw an elephant in the zoo

¿Puedes atrapar ese pájaro? – Can you catch that bird?

Build sentences with these words:

la cosa – thing

el tejado – roof

la caja – box

el río – river

el lago – lake

el mar – sea

querido – dear,

rico – rich.

la leche – milk

el océano – ocean

el bosque – forest

el árbol – tree

el pescado – fish

la comida – food
el pan – bread,

le ensalada – salad

la carne – meat

el té – tea

el café – coffee

el vino – wine

la cerveza – beer

la tetera – teapot

el idioma – language,

el restaurante – restaurant,
el animal – animal

la naturaleza – nature

difícil – difficult

la cocina – kitchen

el camarero – waiter

el viajero – traveler

el puente – bridge

el castillo – castle

tranquilo – quiet

Exercises

Use appropriate pronoun (direct/indirect/with preposition)

  1. Yo _____  prometo – I promise her
  2. Dentro de  – Inside of you(tú)
  3. ¿Ustedes _____  escuchan? – do you hear us?
  4. ¿Qué quieres saber de  _____ ? – What do you want to know from me?
  5. El vendedor          dio lo que ellos quisieron – The seller gave them what they wanted
  6. ¿Usted  ayudó? – Did you help them?
  7. ¿_____  permitiste? – Did you permit him?
  8. Tu _____  ves? – Do you see her?
  9. No quiero _________ (DECIR – to say/tell) – I don’t want to tell you (tú)
  10. ¿Quién _____ sabe? – who knows it?
  11. _____ ayudaba a mi hermana muchos veces – I helped my sister many times
  12. _____ dan mucho dinero a sus hijos – They give a lot of money to their children
  13. Nosotros _____ _____ contamos – We told it to you(Usted)
  14. Su padre se _____ dio a ella – Her father gave it to her
  15. ¿Quién _____ _____ vendo? – Who sold it to you(tú)?
  16. Recuerdas el mensaje que tú _____ enviaste _________? – Do you remember the message that you send to her?
  17. Nuestro abuelo tiene un regalo para ___________ – Our granddad has a gift for us
  18. ¿Puedes cocinar algo para ________? – Can you cook something for me?
  19. El maestro _______ dio las tareas a sus estudiantes – The teacher gave tasks to his students
  20. Cómo tú _____ _____ explicaste ____________? – How did you explain it to them?
  21. Ella ______ quiere agradecer – She wants to thank me

Answers                      

1: le, 2: tí, 3: nos, 4: mí, 5: les, 6: les, 7: le, 8: la, 9: decirte, 10: lo, 11: le, 12: les, 13: se lo, 14: lo/la, 15: te lo, 16: le, a ella, 17: nosotros, 18: mí, 19: les, 20: se los, a ellos, 21: me

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