Direct & Indirect Object Pronouns

       

Before we get into direct object pronouns (DOPs) and indirect object pronouns (IOPs) it would be good to review what direct and indirect objects are. Look at this sentence:

My mom gave balloons to me and my brothers.

Let's take care of the easy stuff first: "My mom" is the subject of the sentence because she is the one doing the action. The verb is "gave" because it's the action in the sentence. Which leaves us with a direct object and an indirect object. Which is which?

Direct Objects

Direct objects answer the question "who?" or "what?" the verb is acting upon. The verb in the sentence is "gave," so who or what is receiving that action? Who or what was given? My mom gave… what? My mom gave "balloons." The answer to the question is "balloons" so "balloons" is the direct object in the sentence.

My mom gave balloons to me and my brothers.

Indirect Objects

Note: Occassionally an indirect object will answer the question "from whom?": Le robaron el dinero. (They stole the money from him.)

Indirect objects answer the question "to whom?" or "for whom?" is the action being performed. The verb is still "gave," so to whom or for whom were the balloons given? My mom gave balloons… to whom? My mom gave balloons "to me and my brothers." The answer to the question is "me and my brothers" so "me and my brothers" is the indirect object in the sentence.

My mom gave balloons to me and my brothers.

Now that we know what direct and indirect objects are; what are direct and indirect object pronouns?

Pronouns

Pronouns are shorter words that replace longer nouns. We use pronouns in conversation to make our sentences more compact especially after we've established what we're talking about. Imagine this conversation:

Nice balloons! Where did you and your brothers get the balloons?
My mom gave balloons to me and my brothers.

While there's nothing really wrong with that conversation, it sounds a little stuffy and robotic. It would be far more natural if went like this:

Nice balloons! Where did you and your brothers get them?
My mom gave them to us.

See what's happened here? The two speakers have established that they're talking about "balloons" and "me and my brothers" so they can now feel free to substitute the pronouns "them" and "us" rather than repeating "balloons" and "me and my brothers" over and over.

Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns in English

Just like subject pronouns, object pronouns (both direct and indirect) can be organized into a chart based on person and number. Let's take a look at the English object pronouns:

direct object pronouns:

indirect object pronouns:

me

us

you

you

him, her, it

them

me

us

you

you

him, her, it

them

You'll notice that there is no difference between direct object pronouns (DOPs) and indirect object pronouns (IOPs) in English. That is not true, however, in Spanish.

Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns in Spanish

Now let's take a look at our sample sentence again, this time in Spanish.

Mi madre regaló globos a mí y mis hermanos.

It should now be fairly easy to identify the components of the sentence. Mi madre is the subject, regaló is the verb, globos is the direct object and a mí y mis hermanos is the indirect object.

We can replace the objects with object pronouns just as we can in English, but here's where it gets complicated. In Spanish DOPs and IOPs are not the same. Let's look:

Note: Even though these charts look similar to the reflexive object pronouns, they are not the same. There is no se.

direct object pronouns:

indirect object pronouns:

me

nos

te

os

lo, la

los, las

me

nos

te

os

le

les

The charts look similar at first glance, but there are some important differences on the bottom line. This is why it's important to know the difference between direct objects and indirect objects (and why we've spent so much time discussing them.) The object pronoun you use often depends on what kind of object it is: direct or indirect.

Using Direct Object Pronouns (DOPs)

DOPs agree in person and number (and gender) with the nouns they replace:

you → te
us → nos
the car → lo
the tables → las

To replace globos in the following sentence with an object pronoun, we use the DOP chart. And since globos is masculine and plural, we choose the pronoun los:

Mi madre regaló globos a mí y mis hermanos.
My mom gave balloons to me and my brothers.

Mi madre los regaló a mí y mis hermanos.
My mom gave them to me and my brothers.

What just happened? Why is the los now in front of regaló? Because, just like with reflexive pronouns, that's where we put object pronouns in Spanish. It looks completely backwards to an English speaker, but that's just the way it is.

Another DOP example:

Mi abuela mandó unas flores a mi tía.
My grandmother sent some flowers to my aunt.

Mi abuela las mandó a mi tía.
My grandmother sent them to my aunt.

As you can see, unas flores become las and gets placed in front of the verb.

Using Indirect Object Pronouns (IOPs)

Note: With indirect object pronouns there is no distinction made between genders.

IOPs also agree in person and number (but not gender) with the nouns they replace:

you → te
us → nos
the her → le
the them → les

Note: IOPs can replace possessive adjectives: Nos está lavando la ropa. (He's cleaning our clothes.)

To replace a mí y mis hermanos, we simply pull the first person plural pronoun from the IOP chart (nos) and place it before the verb.

Mi madre regaló globos a mí y mis hermanos.
My mom gave balloons to me and my brothers.

Mi madre nos regaló globos.
My mom gave balloons to us.

Note: IOPs can be used in impersonal expressions: Le es necesario salir. (It is necessary for him to leave.)

Another IOP example:

Mi abuela mandó unas flores a mi tía.
My grandmother sent some flowers to my aunt.

Mi abuela le mandó unas flores.
My grandmother sent some flowers to her.

Here a mi tía gets replaced with the third person, singular pronoun from the IOP chart, le. Notice that we do not need to account for gender with IOPs.

In case you were wondering, sentences with an indirect object usually also have a direct object.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Verbs can be either "transitive" or "intransitive." As the name implies, a transitive verb can "transfer" its actions to an object. While it's possible to use these verbs without an object, they would sound incomplete without one:

Él abrió la puerta.
He opened the door.

Ella dio un libro.
She gave a book.

Transitive verbs that take one object are known as "monotransitive." Those which can include both a direct and an indirect object are known as "ditransitive." Some ditransitive examples:

Ella pateó el balón a Susana.
She kicked the ball to Susana.

Ella dio un libro a Paco.
She gave a book to Paco.

You cannot use an object with an intransitive verb. Some intransitive examples:

Ella durmió.
She slept.

Mi gato se murió.
My cat died.

Using Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns Together

What if we want to use both a DOP and an IOP in the same sentence?

Both of the object pronouns are going to be placed in front of the verb, but we need to pay attention to the order; the indirect object is always going to come in front of the direct object. Therefore the sentence order will be:

subject → IOP → DOP → verb

For example:

Mi madre regaló globos a mí y mis hermanos.
My mom gave balloons to me and my brothers.

Mi madre nos los regaló.
My mom gave them to us.

The indirect object, a mí y mis hermanos, becomes nos. The direct object, globos, becomes los. The order is: subject, IOP, DOP, verb.

Another DOP and IOP example:

Mi abuela mandó unas flores a mi tía.
My grandmother sent some flowers to my aunt.

Mi abuela se las mandó.
My grandmother sent them to her.

What!? Now what just happened? The IOP should be le, right? Yes, but…

Substituting Se

In order to avoid alliteration, if we have two object pronouns in a row that begin with the letter "l," we always change the first pronoun to "se." That means that anytime le or les is combined with lo, la, los, or las, the le or les becomes se. This rule only applies to "l" words; me, te, nos, and os are unaffected. And since the IOP always comes first in the sentence, you will only ever substitute se for le or les, never for lo, la, los, or las.

original:

 

becomes:

le lo

le la

le los

le las

se lo

se la

se los

se las

original:

 

becomes:

les lo

les la

les los

les las

se lo

se la

se los

se las

Note that le and les both become se. There is no "ses."

For example:

Los estudiantes devolvieron el libro a la maestra.
Jaime mandó la carta a su hijo.
Nosotros dimos las fotos a nuestros padres.

Los estudiantes se lo devolvieron.
Jamie se la mandó.
Nosotros se las dimos.

Alternative Pronoun Placements

We don't always have to place the DOPs and IOPs in front of the verbs. There are a few situations where we can use a sentence structure more like the English word order. If our sentence involves an affirmative command, we must attached our pronouns to end of the verb. The IOP will still come before the DOP:

¡melo!
Give it to me!

If our sentence has a present participle, we may choose to attach object pronouns to the verb:

Estoy dándotelo. / Te lo estoy dando.
I am giving it to you.

We may also choose to attach object pronouns to infinitives:

No quiero dártelo. / No te lo quiero dar.
I don't want to give it to you.

Notice that when we add pronouns to the end of commands, present participles, and infinitives, we may need to add an accent mark to the verb to preserve the original stress (because we're adding extra syllables to the verb). Also notice that when we have a compound verb like "estoy dando" or "quiero dar" we may either attach our pronouns to the second verb or put them in front of the first, but we never put them in between the two verbs.

Furthermore, both of the pronouns always stick together; we don't put one in front of the verb and one behind. And remember, if we don't have an affirmative command, present participle, or infinitive, the objects must come in front of the verb.

¡No me lo des!
Don't give it to me!

Ya te lo di.
I already gave it to you.

No me la ha dado.
She has not given it to me.

Using Indirect Objects and Indirect Object Pronouns

Consider the following sentence:

Ayer le dieron un regalo.

It's easy enough to translate except for the le. Who does the le refer to? It could mean "to him," "to her," or even "to you." In situations like this, we'll often add an indirect object (in the form of a prepositional phrase) for clarification.

Ayer le dieron un regalo a Pablo.

Note: This only occurs with IOPs. We typically do not use direct objects and DOPs together in the same sentence.

It may seem redundant to use both an indirect object and an indirect object pronoun in the same sentence. We'd never do it in English, but it happens quite often in Spanish.

María le escribe a Marcos.
Les voy a regalar una computadora a mis padres.
Se la mandé a Julia.

In addition to using indirect objects together with IOPs for clarity, we can also use them together for emphasis.

A él le parece increíble.
A no me gustar leer.

Common Mistakes with Object Pronouns

Taking Shortcuts

Since the direct objects are usually things and indirect objects are usually people, you may be tempted to simplify the rules a bit and use lo and la whenever you're referring to a thing and le whenever you're referring to a person. You can't do this. It may happen less frequently but DOs can be people and IOs can be things:

Darth Vader mató a Obi-Wan.
Darth Vader killed Obi-Wan.

Le di el dinero al banco.
I gave the money to the bank.

Nos and Nosotros

After learning about object pronouns many people start to confuse nosotros with nos. While it seems like nos could simply be a shorthand abbreviation of nosotros, they are not the same thing. Nosotros means "we," and nos means "us." Consider this sentence:

Nos diste la bicicleta.

While it looks like it could mean, "We gave the bicycle," it actually means, "You gave the bicycle to us." The subject is omitted in this sentence, but we can see from the way the verb is conjugated that the subject is . Even though it comes first in the sentence, the pronoun nos is not a subject pronoun; it's an object pronoun. It needs to be translated as "to us."

Lo and La

Once you've learned that lo and la mean "it," you may be tempted to use them to start a sentence. You cannot do this; lo and la are object pronouns, not subject pronouns. If you want to start a sentence with "it," simply omit the subject:

Don't: La es muy bonita.
Do:
Es muy bonita.

Bad English

Another way to get off track is to confuse DOPs and IOPs because of the shortcuts we take in English. How would you write this sentence in Spanish?

Our grandma sent her flowers.

*Note: technically speaking in this case we should ask "Grandma sent whom?" but for simplicity's sake, let's stick with "who?" Here's a free bonus English lesson: who/whom

Well, "Grandma" is the subject and "sent" is the verb. To figure out the direct object we ask "who?" or "what?" Grandma sent who*? Grandma sent "her," so we look at the DOP chart, la, and we end up with:

Nuestra abuela la envió flores.

Right?… Wrong. The problem in this sentence is that "her" is not a DOP. It's an IOP. While it looks like "her" answers the question "who?" it's really answering the question, "to whom?" Afterall, grandma didn't really put "her" in a box and send her somewhere. The thing being sent was "flowers." If we're a little more careful with the English, it's easier to translate:

Our grandma sent flowers to her.

Nuestra abuela le envió flores.

Now it's easier to see that "her" is actually an indirect object pronoun and therefore we should use le rather than la.

Gustar and other IOP Verbs

See also: Using Gustar

As you may remember from a previous lesson, gustar is a verb that always takes an indirect object pronoun:

A Julian le gusta bailar.
Julian likes to dance. / Dancing is pleasing to Julian.

Note: Used with an IOP, tocar means "to be one's turn": Le toca a Mario. (It's Mario's turn.)

If you think of gustar as meaning "to be pleasing to," the need for an IOP should make sense. There are a number of other verbs that also take indirect object pronouns exclusively. When you look at the translations it is obvious why some need IOPs, but others may not make sense. You'll just have to get used to using IOPs with them.

aburrir (to be boring)

agradar (to be pleasing to)

bastar (to be sufficient)

disgustar (to be disgusting)

doler (to be painful)

encantar (to be enchanting)

faltar (to be lacking)

fascinar (to be fascinating)

hacer falta (to be lacking)

importar (to be important)

interesar (to be interesting)

molestar (to bother)

parecer (to appear to be)

picar (to itch)

placer (to be pleasing to)

quedar (to be left over)

If you ever see a sentence with an IOP where you were expecting to see a DOP, it may simply be that the verb requires one. Speaking of expecting a DOP and seeing an IOP…

What Your Spanish Teacher Isn't Telling You

Leísmo

Note: While it's important to be aware of this phenomenon, it is not considered grammatically correct and should be avoided.

As if all this DOP and IOP stuff weren't hard enough already, there are some regional variances you should be aware of. In parts of Spain, the masculine DOP, lo, will be replaced with the IOP, le, if the direct object is a person. Occasionally this will happen with the feminine DOP (la) too.

English:

correct Spanish:

leísmo Spanish:

I want to see him.

Yo quiero verlo.

Yo quiero verle.

I know her.

Yo la conozco.

Yo le conozco.

Loísmo and Laísmo

Note: Just like leísmo, loísmo and laísmo are considered incorrect and should be avoided.

And if that wasn't bad enough, you guessed it, IOPs occasionally get swapped for DOPs as well. This tends to occur due to the fact that le can be very ambiguous since it doesn't take the gender of the person into account.

English:

correct Spanish:

loísmo/laísmo:

I spoke to him.

Yo le hablé.

Yo lo hablé.

I gave her a gift.

Yo le di un regalo.

Yo la di un regalo.


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