Direct Object Pronouns in Spanish

       

Getting Started

Before we dive into direct object pronouns it would be good to quickly review some grammar.

What's a Subject?

Nouns perform different roles in a sentence. Nouns which come before the verb are usually subjects that state who (or what) is doing the action:

The students returned the book to the teacher.
Enrique and I gave the photos to our parents.
Yolanda sent the letter to her son.
Rodolfo hit Rafael.

What's a Subject Pronoun?

Subject pronouns are shorter words which take the place of longer subjects:

They returned the book to the teacher.
We gave the photos to our parents.
She sent the letter to her son.
He hit Rafael.

What's an Object?

Nouns which come after the verb are usually objects. Objects refer to people or things that are being acted upon or indirectly affected by the subject:

They returned the book to the teacher.
We gave the photos to our parents.
She sent the letter to her son.
He hit Rafael.

What's a Direct Object?

There are different kinds of objects. Objects which answer the questions "what?" or "whom?" the verb is acting upon are direct objects (DOs). To indentify DOs, read the sentence, stop at the verb, then ask yourself "what or who*?" The answer to that question is a direct object:

They returned the book to the teacher.
We gave the photos to our parents.
She sent the letter to her son.
He hit Rafael.

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

They returned what? They returned "the book"; "the book" is the direct object. We gave what? We gave "the photos"; "the photos" is the DO. She sent what? She sent "the letter"; "the letter" is the DO. Rodolfo hit who*? He hit "Rafael"; "Rafael" is the DO.

What's a Direct Object Pronoun?

Direct object pronouns (DOPs) are shorter words which replace direct objects. In the following examples direct objects have been replaced with direct object pronouns:

They returned it to the teacher.
We gave them to our parents.
She sent it to her son.
He hit him.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

You can't use a direct object with just any verb. Only a "transitive" verb can transfer its action to an object. Transitive verbs usually have objects. It would sound funny if they didn't:

Él abrió la puerta.
He opened the door.

Ella dio un libro.
She gave a book.

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

Ella durmió.
She slept.

Mi gato se murió.
My cat died.

Direct Object Pronouns in Spanish

Note: Don't confuse direct object pronouns with reflexive pronouns:
me
, te, se, nos, os, se.

If we want to replace a direct object with a pronoun, we need to use a direct object pronoun (DOP) from the Spanish chart below:

English DOPs:

Spanish DOPs:

me

us

you

you

him, her, it

them

me

nos

te

os

lo, la

los, las

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

you → te
us → nos
the book → lo
the photos → las

How To Use Direct Object Pronouns (DOPs) in Spanish

The most difficult thing for Spanish language learners to remember about DOPs is placement. Unlike English, where DOPs come after the verb, we put DOPs in front of the verb in Spanish. Notice the placement:

They returned it to the teacher.
We gave them to our parents.
She sent it to her son.
He hit him.

Ellos lo devolvieron a la maestra.
Nosotros las dimos a nuestros padres.
Ella la mandó a su hijo.
Él lo golpeó.

Notice how lo can mean both "it" and "him." Likewise la can mean both "it" and "her."

Pronoun Placement Alternatives

We don't always have to place the DOPs in front of the verb. There are a few situations where we can use a sentence structure more like the English word order. If our sentence has an infinitive we may choose to attach our object pronoun to it (but we don't have to):

No quiero comprarlo. / No lo quiero comprar.
I don't want to buy it.

We may also choose to attach object pronouns to present participles if they're available:

Estoy comprándolo. / Lo estoy comprando.
I am buying it.

If our sentence involves an affirmative command, we must attach our pronouns to end of the verb:

¡Cómpralo!
Buy it!

Notice that when we add pronouns to the end of infinitives, present participles, and commands, 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 comprando" or "quiero comprar" we may either attach our pronoun to the second verb or put it in front of the first, but we never put it in between the two verbs.

And remember, if we don't have an affirmative command, infinitive, or present participle, the object must come in front of the verb:

¡No lo compres!
Don't buy it!

Ya lo compré.
I already bought it.

No lo he comprado.
I have not bought it.

Common Mistakes with Direct Object Pronouns

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 entiendes.

While it looks like it could mean, "We understand," it actually means, "You understand 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 "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.

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