Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns in Spanish
This article walks you through direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish — what they are, when to use them, and tricks to help you master each in different tenses.
This article walks you through direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish — what they are, when to use them, and tricks to help you master each in different tenses and with proper conjugated verb use. Both indirect pronoun use and direct pronoun use are explained.
Let’s dive in!
What is a pronoun?
A pronoun (pronombre) in the Spanish language, also formally known as Castilian, is a class of words that may act as a noun or subject in a sentence and are used to refer to people, animals, things, or ideas without actually naming them. Spanish — and Spanish indirect object pronoun use — has different kinds of pronouns. The first ones that are learned are subject pronouns and these form the basis for understanding the rest.
Spanish has different kinds of pronouns. The first ones that are learned are subject pronouns and these form the basis for understanding the rest.
Subject Pronouns in Spanish
Subject pronouns or “personal pronouns” (pronombres personales) make reference to the grammatical person:
- First: the person who speaks
- Second: the person that is spoken to
- Third: any other person
Like in English, these can be used in singular or plural. But one of the main differences between English and Castilian is that Spanish pronouns have a gender; which corresponds to the gender of the noun they are replacing!
|I||First person singular||Yo||Yo|
|We||First person plural||Nosotros||Nosotros|
|You||Second person singular||Tú/Vos||Usted|
|He||Third person masculine singular||Él||Él|
|She||Third person femenine singular||Ella||Ella|
|They||Third person plural||Ustedes||Ustedes/Vosotros|
Note that depending on the nation, some pronouns are more used than others. For example, in Spain ‘vosotros’ is the norm for ’you guys’, whereas ‘usted’ for ‘you’ is the accepted practice for formal Spanish.
Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and other South American countries favor ‘vos’ and this linguistic phenomenon is called “voseo”.
For that reason is always valuable to learn Spanish from a native speaker from the region you are interested in.
Spanish Pronoun for ‘It’:
The case of ‘it’ is unique and seems complicated, because ‘it’ doesn’t have a direct translation to Spanish; but do not worry, we will break this information into bits.
Check out this table to familiarize yourself with the words.
|Direct object masculine||Lo||Los|
|Direct object femenine||La||Las|
|After preposition masculine||Él||Ellos|
|After preposition femenine||Ella||Ellas|
|After preposition neutral||Ello||Ello|
It is important to keep the gender of the noun in mind when replacing it with the pronoun, as it needs to remain the same:
- Me gustan las donas. ¿Las has probado? -> I like donuts. Have you tried them?
- Me gustan los pasteles. ¿Los has probado? -> I like cakes. Have you tried them?
Verbal Object Pronouns Spanish
In Spanish, this group of pronouns is called “pronombres personales átonos” (atonic personal pronouns).
These are still “personal” because they change according to the grammatical person; but they work as the object of a verb, hence they are popularly referred to as verbal object pronouns in English.
|ATONIC PERSONAL PRONOUNS|
|Third person||Direct complement||Masculine||lo||los|
|Direct complement or attribute||Neuter||lo||—|
|se (before another pronoun)||se (before another pronoun)|
Spanish Clitic Pronouns
Atonic personal pronouns can be used in two different ways:
- As a direct object = La llamaron -> They call her.
- As an indirect object = Le dije que llamara a su hermana -> I told her to call her sister.
This means that they complement the verb and can appear in different parts of the sentence. However, verbal object pronouns are always linked to the verb and pronounced like a single unit.
They lack of phonic independence (incapable to stand on their own) and thus are known as “clitic pronouns” (pronombres clíticos). A clitic is an unstressed word such as ‘me’ or ‘le’ that attaches in pronunciation to another stressed word like a verb.
There are two types of clitic pronouns, depending on their location in relation to the verb:
- Proclitic (proclíticos): Before the verb.
ME ayuda – Martha me ayuda con las tareas del hogar. -> Martha helps me with the house chores.
- Enclitic (enclíticos): After the verb.
AyúdaME – Martha, por favor ayúdame con las tareas del hogar. -> Martha, please help me with the house chores.
When they go before the verb they are written as independent words, but when they go after they are attached to the verb.
Look at the following phrases with the verb ‘decir’ (to tell).
- Before (proclitic): TE LO dije -> I told you
- After (enclitic): DímeLO -> Tell me
Spanish Direct VS Indirect Object Pronouns
To differentiate a direct from an indirect object let’s look into the following descriptions:
- Direct object: the object that directly receives the action of the verb in a given sentence.
I bought a car. (Car is the direct object)
Compré un coche. -> Lo compré.
- Indirect object: the object indirectly affected by the action of the verb.
I bought my mom a car. (My mom is the indirect object)
Compré un coche para mi mamá. -> Le compré un coche a mi mamá.
Object Pronouns in Spanish
Here is a full list of object pronouns in Spanish.
|ENGLISH||SPANISH||DIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS||INDIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS|
¡Study the following example to see Spanish object pronouns in action!
Mi hermano Juan ME dijo que LE escribió un poema a María. ¿LO has leído? ¡Es precioso! TE va a encantar. -> My brother Juan told me that he wrote a poem to María. ¿Have you read it? ¡It’s beautiful! You will love it.
Direct Object Pronouns in Spanish
Below you can look at some examples with each pronoun:
- Me: ¿Puedes oírme? -> Can you hear me?
- Te: ¿Te gusta? -> Do you like it?
- Le: ¿Le puedo ayudar en algo? -> Can I help you with something?
- Lo: Mario lo toma sin azúcar. -> Mario drinks it without sugar.
- La: No puedo verla. -> I can´t see her.
- Nos: Están esperándonos a la entrada. -> They are waiting for us at the entrance.
- Os: Os lo dijimos. -> We told you.
- Les: Les dejé comida en el horno. -> I left food (for you) in the oven.
The location of a direct object pronoun can vary:
- Before the verb: ¿Me esperas? –> Can you wait for me?
- After the verb: ¡Espérame! -> Wait for me!
- With an infinitive verb: Esperarlo es mejor. -> To wait for him is the best.
- With a present participle: Ando buscándolo. -> I am looking for him.
In compound phrases, the direct object pronoun can appear before or after:
- Puedo verte
- Te puedo ver
Both sentences mean the same: I can see you.
Indirect Object Pronouns in Spanish
The most used indirect object pronouns are ‘le’ and ‘les’ and these replace the indirect object in a sentence. They tell us to whom or for whom something is done.
Consider a simple sentence:
Yo compré un anillo para Sara. -> I bought a ring for Sara.
The ring is the direct object and Sara is the indirect object.
Now watch the example with the indirect object pronoun ‘le’:
Le compré un anillo a Sara. -> I bought Sara a ring.
The indirect object pronoun can be used with or without the indirect object:
- Le compré un anillo a Sara.
- Le compré un anillo.
However, the location of the pronoun ‘le’ can vary:
- Le compré un anillo. -> I bought her a ring.
- Cómprale un anillo. -> Buy her a ring.
As you can see from the sample above, by switching the place of the pronoun ‘le’, you completely change the meaning of the sentence, even when it is the same verb (comprar – buy).
The first sentence is an example of the indicative mood (stating a fact) and the second one of an imperative (issuing an instruction, suggestion or command).
However, in both sentences, you would need to know the entire context (that the speaker is talking about Sara) in order to correctly replace the noun with a pronoun.
In addition, you could also use the example to form an affirmative or negative statement:
- Se lo compré. -> I bought it (for her).
- No se lo compré. I didn’t buy it (for her).
In this instance ‘se’ is needed as an indirect compliment because it appears before ‘lo’ (a direct object pronoun).
‘Le’ VS ‘Lo’:
Sometimes is hard to know which one to use but think for a minute in the following example:
What is the difference between ‘le compré’ and ‘lo compré’?
Well, ‘le’ tells us that the speaker bought something for another person or from someone; whereas ‘lo’ inform us that the speaker is referring to the thing that he bought.
Le: provides information about the person (from or for someone).
- Le compré aguacates al puesto de la esquina. -> I bought avocados from the stall in the corner.
- Le compré un vestido a mi hija. -> I bought a dress for my daughter.
Lo: provides information about the object.
- Lo compré al dos por uno. -> I bought it at the price of two for one.
- Lo compré en el supermercado. -> I bought it at the supermarket.
- Lo compré por sus colores llamativos. -> I bought it because of its striking colors.
Finally, when the pronoun is an indirect complement, ‘le’ and ‘les’ are used no matter the gender of the word that the pronoun is referring to.
- Le pedí disculpas a mi padre. -> I apologized to my father.
- Le dije a su hermana que comprara el pan. -> I told her sister to buy the bread.
- Les di caramelos a los niños. -> I gave sweets to the children.
You can find out more about the Grammar rules for ‘la’, ‘lo’, and ‘le’ here.