A detailed guide to direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish

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Direct and indirect object pronouns

The verb’s action is received directly by an object. The action of a verb has an indirect effect on an indirect object. The words ‘direct object pronouns’ and ‘indirect object pronouns’ replace a sentence’s direct and indirect objects.

 

Direct and indirect object pronouns video lessons

A pronoun is a word that is used to replace a noun. The verb’s action is received by an object, either directly or indirectly. Thus, an object pronoun is a word that is used to replace the sentence’s object.

Let’s look at an example of a simple English sentence: I eat chocolate ice cream.

In this case, ‘I’ is the subject of the sentence because I am performing the verb’s action (eating), and the chocolate ice cream is the object of the sentence.

If you wanted to use an object pronoun in this sentence, you need to look for a word that can replace ‘chocolate ice cream’. Imagine if someone asks you:

Do you like chocolate ice cream?

You could then respond and say:

Yes, I eat it every day.

In this case, ‘it’ is the English object pronoun for ‘chocolate ice cream’. Let’s make it clear with the help of a few more examples:

— Have you seen my glasses?

— No, I haven’t seen them.

— Can you give this envelope to John and Annie?

— Yes, I will give it to them tomorrow.

As you can see in these examples, the object pronouns in English are ‘it’, ‘them’, ‘him’, and ‘her’. In the last example, we used a direct object pronoun (it) in combination with an indirect object pronoun (them).

Now that we are clear about object pronouns, it is time for us to dig into two types of object pronouns.

Direct and indirect object pronouns

The verb’s action is received directly by a direct object. The action of a verb has an indirect effect on an indirect object. The words ‘direct object pronouns’ and ‘indirect object pronouns’ replace a sentence’s direct and indirect objects.

Certain verbs, according to the theory, cannot use indirect objects. Some verbs frequently use indirect objects. For instance, the verb ‘to see’ cannot have an indirect object.

John: Can you see my car?

Annie: Yes, I see it.

Note here that ‘it’ is the direct object pronoun for ‘car’.

However, there cannot be an indirect object with ‘to see’ because when you ‘see’ something, the action of ‘seeing’ that thing has no effect on anything else.

In contrast, the verb ‘to give’ often has an indirect object. For instance:

Sara: What did you give your mother for Christmas?

Katherine: I gave her a dress.

In this particular example, the dress is the direct object because it receives the action of the verb. And, ‘her’ is the indirect object pronoun because the mother is indirectly affected by the action of giving the dress.

When you give to someone, you usually give something to them. And, if you know what is being given and who is receiving it from context, you can construct a sentence with a direct and indirect object pronoun like this:

  • I gave it to them last month.

Here is a table of the Spanish direct and indirect object pronouns and their English equivalents:

(PERSON)

ENGLISH OBJECT PRONOUNS

SPANISH DIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS

SPANISH INDIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS

(Yo)

Me

Me

Me

(Tú)

You

Te

Te

(Él / Ella)

Him / Her / It

Lo / La

Le

(Usted)

You (Formal)

Lo / La

Le

(Nosotros)

Us

Nos

Nos

(Vosotros)

You All

Os

Os

(Ellos / Ellas)

Them

Los / Las

Les

(Ustedes)

You All (Formal)

Los / Las

Les

while using direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish, you have to decide between ‘lo‘ and ‘le‘ for the translation of ‘him’ and ‘it’, ‘la‘ and ‘le‘ for the translation of ‘her’ and ‘it’, and ‘los‘, ‘las‘ and ‘les‘ for the translation of ‘them’.

However, if you know the word you want to translate is a direct or indirect object pronoun in English, you will know which word to use in Spanish. If you want to translate an English sentence that contains the word ‘them’ to Spanish, and you know that ‘them’ is an indirect object pronoun, you should use ‘les’.

Similarly, if you want to translate an English sentence with ‘it’ to Spanish, and you know that ‘it’ is a direct object pronoun representing a male object, then you should use ‘lo’.

How to use direct object pronouns in Spanish?

Remember that in order to use a direct object pronoun, you must know what the direct object is from context.

For instance:

Can you see my book? (¿Puedes ver mi libro?)

Yes, I see it. (Sí, lo veo)

In the example above, you need to use ‘lo’ because it is the direct object pronoun for ‘book’. And, since ‘book’ is masculine in Spanish, you need to use ‘lo’ and not ‘la’. Also, most importantly, you need to put the ‘lo’ before the conjugated verb.

How to use indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

To use an indirect object pronoun, you need a special kind of verb. You need a verb that can affect other things by its action in an indirect manner. A few of these common verbs in Spanish are: alquilar, dar, decir, dejar, echar, regalar, and vender.

Keep in mind that these verbs do not have to have an indirect object. It’s just that they frequently do.

For example:

Will you leave him the car? (¿Le dejas el coche?)

Note the indirect object pronoun is ‘him’. The action of leaving the ‘car’ is indirectly affecting ‘him’ because now he can use the car.

You have seen indirect object pronouns separately in this section. Now let’s look at how to combine direct and indirect object pronouns in a sentence in Spanish.

How to combine direct and indirect object pronouns?

Now, this is the part where Spanish learners get a bit confused. If you are one of them, it is important for you to remember that the direct object pronoun and indirect object pronoun will often combine after a relevant question.

For instance:

Did she tell you the story? (¿Te dijo la historia?)

Yes, she told it to me. (Sí, me la dijo)

In the example above, the direct object pronoun ‘la‘ represents the story and the indirect object pronoun ‘me‘ represents the one speaking.

After that, we must consider what happens when third-person indirect object pronouns are combined with direct object pronouns. In Spanish, you never say ‘le lo’; instead, you say ‘se lo.’

This is because ‘le lo’ is actually harder to say.  It is much easier to say ‘se lo’ than ‘le lo‘. That’s why this change happened. Following is a list of all of the changes for third-person indirect object pronouns combined with direct object pronouns:

  • Le lo → se lo
  • Le la → se la
  • Le los → se los
  • Le las → se las
  • Les lo → se lo
  • Les la → se la
  • Les los → se los
  • Les las → se las
  • Will you leave him the car? (¿Le dejas el coche?)
  • No, I won’t leave it for him because I need it. (No, no se lo dejo porque lo necesito.)
  • Did you rent your house to her? (¿Le has alquilado tu casa a ella?)
  • Yes, I have rented it to her. (Sí, se la he alquilado.)
  • Have you thrown the tomatoes in the soup? (¿Le has echado los tomates a la sopa?)
  • Yes, I have already thrown them in (it). (Sí, ya se los he echado.)

Conclusion

Have you found direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns confusing? If so, it is advised to start by thinking about sentences in English that contain ‘him,’ ‘her,’ ‘it,’ or ‘them’ and asking yourself if they are acting as direct object pronouns or indirect object pronouns. Then you can simply translate these sentences into Spanish.

Remember these pronouns often come up when answering questions, so try to ask your Spanish friends lots of questions using verbs that use indirect objects (decir, dar, dejar etc.)

 

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