In Spanish, as in English, there are two types of object pronouns – direct and indirect. In a sentence such as:
My brother sent a letter to his girlfriend.
‘My brother’ is the subject of the verb, i.e. the person who carried out the action of the verb; ‘a letter’ is the direct object, i.e. the thing which directly received the effect of the verb; and ‘his girlfriend’ is the indirect object, i.e. she benefits from the act of sending and therefore plays an indirect role in the process.
In English the indirect object is often introduced by ‘to’ or ‘for’, but sometimes a change in word order leads to the ‘to’ or ‘for’ being omitted:
My brother sent his girlfriend a letter.
It is important to be able to work out which is the direct and which is the indirect object, because this will affect which pronoun is used in Spanish.
Direct objects and direct object pronouns
When the direct object of a verb is a person, it must always be preceded by a in Spanish –
this is called the personal a:
John sees the children.
Juan ve a los niños.
John sees the cars.
Juan ve los coches.
As we have seen before, pronouns are used to replace a noun, so instead of saying: John sees the cars.
Assuming that both the speaker and the listener know what is being referred to, we can use the direct object pronoun to replace ‘the cars’ and say:
John sees them.
The direct object pronouns in Spanish correspond to the six persons of the verb and are as follows:
1st person sing . me me
2nd person sing . te you (familiar sing.)
3rd person sing. lo him/it/you (polite sing., masc.)
La her/it/you (polite sing., fem.)
1st person pl. nos us
2nd person pl. os you (familiar pl.)
3rd person pl. los them (masc. people or objects) or you (polite
las them (fem. people or objects) or you (polite
Direct object pronouns are generally placed before the verb, for example:
John sees me.
Juan me ve.
I see you. (familiar sing.)
(Yo) te veo.
We see him./We see it. (masc. sing.)/We see you. (polite sing. masc.)
They see her./We see it. (fem. sing.)/We see you. (polite sing. fem.)
They see us.
We see you. (familiar pl.)
We see them. (masc.)/We see you. (polite pl. masc.)
We see them. (fem.)/We see you. (polite pl. fem.)
The third person pronouns lo and la are often replaced by le when the direct object is a
person rather than a thing:
e.g. John sees it.
Juan lo ve.
John sees him.
Juan le (or lo) ve.
Similarly in the plural:
John sees them. (e.g. the cars)
Juan los ve.
John sees them. (e.g. the children)
Juan les ve.
This is known as leísmo and is more common in Spain, particularly central Spain, than in Latin America.
We have seen that the direct object pronoun generally comes before the main verb, but
there are some cases where the pronoun is added to the end of the verb form – notably the
e.g. I am going to buy it.
Voy a comprarlo.*
We are going to visit you tomorrow.
Vamos a visitarte mañana.*
There is an alternative position for the pronoun in these sentences – i.e. Lo voy a comprar/Te vamos a visitar mañana – but at this stage it is better to add it to the infinitive.
The gerund and the imperative (this will be dealt with at a later stage) behave in a similar way.
Indirect objects and indirect object pronouns
In Spanish the indirect object is always preceded by the preposition a:
Juan escribe una carta a su novia.