Even when you have an extensive Spanish vocabulary and a good grip on the grammar, understanding how and when to use direct and indirect object pronouns can still be a huge challenge. In this article, we aim to shed some much-needed light on the topic and help improve your fluency in Spanish.
First things first. What is an object?
To understand the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns, we first need to be sure that we know what an object is and what a pronoun is.
Most sentences at their most basic include a subject, a verb, and an object, in order for them to make sense.
The subject is the person doing the action, the verb is what the person is doing, and the object is the person or thing receiving the action.
Let’s look at an example:
Susan calls Jane.
In the above, very simple example, Susan is the person doing the thing, calls is the verb, or what she’s doing, and Jane is who she is doing it to, or the person receiving the action.
Here are some more examples:
|The princess||Kisses||The frog|
|The policeman||Arrests||The thief|
To summarise, the person or thing receiving the action of the verb is the object. We can, in fact, go further and say that they are the direct object because the action of the verb happens to them directly.
And what is a pronoun?
The next thing to consider is what a pronoun is. Put simply, a pronoun replaces a noun. So, if we replace the nouns in the sentence ‘Susan calls Jane’, we would say, ‘She calls her’. ‘She’ and ‘her’ are subject and object pronouns respectively.
In English, the subject and object pronouns are as follows:
|Subject pronouns||Object pronouns|
|He, she, it||Him, her, it|
In Spanish, the table above translates as follows:
|Pronombre sujeto||Pronombre objeto (directo)|
|Él, Ella||Lo, la|
It is important to remember, however, that whereas English only has one set of object pronouns, Spanish has direct object pronouns, as above, and indirect object pronouns.
How to use direct object pronouns
To see how these work, lets first look at a sentence in Spanish that uses nouns and then replace the nouns with pronouns.
Pedro llama a Juan = Pedro calls Juan.
Here Juan is the direct object. We’re going to replace his name with the direct object pronoun. In English this would means substituting ‘Juan’ for ‘him’. In Spanish we substitute ‘Juan’ for ‘lo’.
To make things awkward, we can’t just say ‘Pedro llama lo’, because in Spanish, use of object pronouns changes the word order of the sentence. Therefore, we have to say ‘Pedro lo llama’.
Here are a few more examples (Direct object pronouns in bold):
|I have taken them||Los he tomado|
|Juan cooks it||Juan la cocina|
|You have woken them||Los has despertado|
|She brings him||Lo trae|
|They pay us||Nos pagan|
|We are going to tell you||Os vamos a decir|
You might find it beneficial to write down a few more examples of your own since, once you have grasped and internalised the above, the next part should be plain sailing.
What is the indirect object pronoun?
Just as the direct object pronoun takes the place of the direct object, the indirect object pronoun replaces the indirect object. You could say that the indirect object answers the question ‘What?’
What are you giving Lorraine?
I’m giving Lorraine a book.
As you can see, ‘Lorraine’ is the direct object as she is the one at the receiving end of the action. ‘A book’ is the indirect object.
We’ll look at a few more examples:
|Subject||Verb||Direct object||Indirect object|
|The pop star||Sang||Me||A song|
|You||Will bring||Grandad||A sherry|
We already know how we would replace the direct objects in the above examples. In order, the direct object pronouns would be la, te, me, and lo.
As for the indirect objects, we can also replace those with pronouns.
Differences between direct and indirect object pronouns
In English, indirect object pronouns are exactly the same as direct object pronouns. In Spanish, there are some differences.
|Pronombre objeto indirecto||Pronombre objeto directo|
|Le (Se)||Lo, la|
|Les (Se)||Los, las|
Note that there are only a couple of differences between direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish.
Note also that ‘Se’ is used for stylistic reasons. For example, a sentence like ‘I give it to him’ would logically translate as ‘Le lo doy’ (or ‘Le la doy’ depending on what ‘it’ is). This is somewhat awkward, however, so instead we’d say ‘Se lo doy’.
As you can see, the indirect object goes to the beginning of the sentence unless you use the subject pronoun which goes first and would put the indirect object in second place. Then comes the direct object, and finally the verb.
Some examples follow:
|Subject||Indirect object pronoun||Direct object pronoun||Verb|
|Mi madre||Me||Los||Ha dado|
When using the form ‘tener que’, the object pronouns are attached to the infinitive in their correct order. For example:
Tengo que decírtelo.
Tienes que comprársela.
Again, a great exercise is to create some examples of your own using the examples above.
Negation with object pronouns
When we want to use negative words like ‘no’ or ‘nunca’ in a phrase containing object pronouns, the negative word goes before the object pronouns.
Me lo dijo = He/she told me.
Nunca me lo dijo = He/she never told me.
Where to go from here
Quizzes are a good way of testing your knowledge. If you fancy a challenge, try this one.
You can also get hints and tips on learning Spanish is by joining a Spanish speaking group where you’ll find many people willing to support you and practice with you in a fun and friendly environment.