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Direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish

Do you struggle with direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish? I will help you with that!

These pronouns exist in English and other languages as well, so this isn’t a new concept for students.

However, if you are a beginner it may be a little bit tricky to identify and use them correctly.

Half of them are the same for both direct and indirect object. And those that are different have a distinction in grammatical gender only as direct objects.

Also, when they go together in third person, one of them changes, and sometimes native Spanish speakers duplicate them without any apparent reasons.

But that confusion hopefully ends today!

Are you ready to learn everything about the direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish? Let’s go!

Direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish

These pronouns are used to refer to something or someone that was already mentioned in order not to repeat it. For example:

Tomás escribió un artículo y publicó el artículo en su blog.Tomás escribió un artículo y lo publicó en su blog. (direct object)

El presidente saludó a sus seguidores. Prometió a sus seguidores que iba a ganar.El presidente saludó a sus seguidores y les prometió que iba a ganar. (indirect object)

Let’s start with the direct object pronoun first!

Direct object pronoun in Spanish

The pronouns that can replace a direct object are:

MasculineFemenine
Singularlola
Pluralloslas

Agreement

The direct object pronoun agrees in grammatical gender and number with the thing it refers to:

—¿Leíste el libro?
—No, no lo leí.

—¿Me prestas la computadora?
La estoy usando.

—¿Quién hizo estos dibujos?
Los hizo mi hermanito.

—¿Dónde están las bebidas?
Las puse en la heladera.

Position

The direct object pronoun in Spanish always goes before a conjugated verb:

—¿Cuándo compraste la casa?
La compré hace 15 años.

But if a verb goes with another verb in infinitive or a gerund, the pronoun can be placed either before or after:

Cristian quiere comprar los auricularesLos quiere comprar / Quiere comprarlos

Helena está preparando la cenaLa está preparando / Está preparándola

An exception is the expression hay que + verb to express obligation:

Hay que hacer la tarea → Hay que hacerla / La hay que hacer

The pronoun goes after the verb in affirmative imperative, and before in negative imperative:

Lleva el auto al taller → Llévalo / No lo lleves

Tomen la sopa → Tómenla / No la tomen

Carguen los celulares → Cárguenlos / No los carguen

Deja tus cosas aquí → Déjalas / No las dejes

Direct object with people and animals

When the direct object refers to a person or an animal, it goes with the preposition a:

—¿Cuándo conociste a tu novio?
Lo conocí en noviembre.

—¿La viste a Brenda en la fiesta?
—No, no la vi.

That duplication in the second example is common in Spanish, especially in Argentina, although it may sound redundant to your ears.

This duplication of the direct object isn’t mandatory, but there are other types that are. We will see this in the next section.

What’s important to know now is that using the preposition a or not can change the meaning of a sentence:

Belén conoce a Camila tan bien como a Carol. (= Belén knows Camila and Carol well)

Belén conoce a Camila tan bien como Carol. (= Belén and Carol know Camila well)

Or it can be ambiguous: el león mató el cazador. Who killed who?

Now let’s learn a little bit more about the duplication of the direct object!

Duplication of the direct object

When the speaker chooses to mention the direct object before the verb, it’s obligatory to duplicate it.

That means that in a same sentence both the direct object and its pronoun appear together. For example:

A la princesa la capturó el dragón.

El té lo tomo sin azúcar.

Native speakers do this in order to focus the information, highlighting what they are going to talk about.

And remember that if the direct object refers to people or animals we must add the preposition a:

A mi perro lo rescaté de la calle.

However, in some dialects (especially in Argentine Spanish) it’s common to duplicate the direct object even when it’s placed after the verb, without any apparent reasons:

Ayer la ayudé a mi hija con su tarea.

El mes pasado lo compré el televisor.

This duplication isn’t obligatory. In these cases, the speaker just has the intention to emphasize as well.

Let’s continue with the indirect object pronoun in Spanish!

A man giving gifts to his family - Direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish
Este regalo se lo voy a dar a mi hijo preferido. Foto de RODNAE Productions en Pexels

Indirect object pronoun in Spanish

The pronouns that can replace an indirect object are le or les. They only agree with the thing replaced in grammatical number, not gender.

They can appear in these three contexts: intransitive verbs (one participant), transitive verbs (two participants) and verbs like gustar.

Now let’s analyze the three contexts one by one!

1) Indirect object with intransitive verbs

But what does it mean for a verb to be transitive or intransitive?

Basically, a transitive verb needs a complement, a direct object (lo, la), to complete the sense.

Ver and llamar are examples of transitive verbs, so it’s correct to say lo veo and lo llamo.

On the other hand, intransitive verbs make sense by themselves, therefore they don’t need a complement.

These are followed by an indirect object pronoun, le, which refers to the person or thing that an action is done to or for. For example:

Le mentí a Mariel. (I lied to her)

Les sonreí a los estudiantes. (I smiled at them)

The indirect object pronoun is always built with the preposition a. It usually refers to a person, but with some verbs it can also refer to things. For example: esta reliquia pertenece al museo.

2) Indirect object with transitive verbs

Some transitive verbs have two participants. For example, dar is a transitive verb, but we always give something (direct object = what) to somebody (indirect object = who).

So when you have this structure, something to somebody, you need to use these pronouns:

Le recomiendo el libro.

Le digo la verdad.

Les enseño español a los extranjeros.

Les muestro el proyecto a mis colegas.

Transitive or intransitive?

Sometimes, a verb can be both transitive or intransitive, depending on the meaning:

Le hablo todos los días. (= to talk to somebody)

Hablo mandarín y lo hablo muy bien. (= to speak a language)

When you look up a verb in any dictionary, it always indicates whether a verb is transitive or intransitive.

Check the definitions 3 and 17 of hablar used for the examples above.

Next, we are going to see briefly what happens with verbs such as gustar!

3) Indirect object with verbs like gustar

(A mí)mela cerveza
(A ti)teJulieta
(A él/ella)leGUSTA(N)dormir
(A nosotros/as)noslas telenovelas
(A ustedes)lesel pop
(A ellos/ellas)lesleer novelas

Verbs such as gustar, agradar, encantar, doler, importar, interesar, parecer, etc. ared used with an indirect object pronoun that indicates who experiences the feeling.

Position

The indirect object pronoun always goes before the conjugated verb:

No me importa el fútbol.

A Ángela le duele la cabeza.

But if a verb goes with another verb in infinitive or a gerund, the pronoun can be placed either before or after:

Le voy a dar la guitarra a Gustavo. = Voy a darle la guitarra a Gustavo.

Te estoy invitando a cenar. = Estoy invitándote a cenar.

As for the imperative mood, the pronoun goes after the verb in affirmative, and before in negative:

Dame el celular / No me lo des.

Duplication of the indirect object

The duplication of the indirect object is obligatory when the form with a is before the verb. In that case, we add the indirect object pronoun:

A Daniel le gustan las milanesas.

A Nicole le dieron un premio.

We also duplicate the indirect pronoun when the form with a contains a pronoun:

Nos enseñó italiano a nosotros.

Me regaló la chaqueta a mí.

Using the form with a gives the sentence a sense of contrast:

Nos enseñó italiano a nosotros. (no a ellos)

Me regaló la chaqueta a mí. (no a ti)

Of course, it’s possible to say just nos enseñó italiano and me regaló la chaqueta if it’s not important for us to make some sort of contrast.

Finally, I should say that in Spanish we almost always duplicate the indirect object, even when it’s not mandatory.

Let’s take the headline of this article published on El País, one of the most important newspapers in Spanish, as an example: Di qué regalaste a Obama y te diré quién eres.

The sentence is grammatically perfect.

Since Obama is a name, not a pronoun, and the form with a is placed after the verb, it’s not necessary to duplicate th indirect object.

But let’s pay attention to the following excerpt of an interview with the president of Chile’s brother:

-¿Que canción tuya estaba en el disco que le regalaste a Obama?

A Obama le regalé una colección de música chilena que no incluye ninguna canción mía…

Whereas the second duplication is mandatory (form with a before the verb), the first one isn’t! Yet the journalist chose to duplicate the indirect object.

And in fact, it sounds better to my ears, but if you omitted it, it wouldn’t be wrong!

Direct and indirect pronouns in Spanish

To summarize, the direct object refers to the person or thing that is affected by the action of the verb, whereas the indirect object refers to the person or thing that an action is done to or for.

This is the full table with direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish:

Direct objectIndirect object
Yomeme
tete
Él/ellalo/lale
Nosotros/asnosnos
Ustedeslos/lasles
Ellos/aslos/lasles

As you can see, the pronouns me, te and nos can be both direct and indirect objects, depending on the verb and whether it’s transitive or intransitive.

Tomás me vio en la calle. (direct = he saw me)
Tomás me habló en la calle. (indirect = he talked to me)

Ayer te llamé. (direct = I called you)
Ayer te mentí. (indirect = I lied to you)

El gato nos visitó. (direct = It visited us)
El gato nos pertenece. (indirect = it belongs to us)

Replacement of le/les with se

When we use transitive verbs, if we want to replace both objects with their corresponding pronuns, in third person singular and plural, you need to use se instead of le or les.

Le di los libros a Ariana. → Se los di.

Les pedí una respuesta a los ministros. → Se la pedí.

As Maria, one of my students, told me when I taught her this topic: ‘le and lo don’t go!’.

Finally, let’s see the position of these pronouns when they are together!

Position of the direct and indirect pronouns

They always go before the conjugated verb. First, the indirect pronoun and then, the direct one:

Te traje la comida. → Te la traje.

Me diste las notas. → Me las diste.

With a verb in infinitive or a gerund, they can go either before or after:

Le quise mostrar mi vestido a Oriana. → Se lo quise mostrar / Quise mostrárselo

¿Te estás poniendo la camisa? → ¿Te la estás poniendo? / ¿Estás poniéndotela?

And with imperative:

Regálame los boletos para ver a Soda Stereo. → Regálamelos / No me los regales

Pideles la contraseña del Wi-Fi a tus tíos. → Pídesela / No se la pidas

And that’s all for today!

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I hope you have enjoyed this article about the direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish

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Kevin.

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