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How to Use Direct and Indirect Pronouns Part I

Direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are used to substitute indirect and direct objects. This lesson explores the proper way to do these substitutions using examples from our catalog of videos.

The direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are identical except for the third-person singular and plural (him, her, it, them)  and the second-person formal (you) forms:

 

So, the pronoun me is used to substitute either the direct object, as in:

A Adícora me trajo el viento.
The wind brought me to Adícora.
Caption 7, Adícora - Venezuela - Darío y el Kitesurfing

Or the indirect object, as in:

Mi papá había ido a Nueva York en un viaje de negocios y me trajo unos discos.
My father had gone to New York on a business trip and brought me some records.
Caption 1, Carli Muñoz - Niñez - Part 2

In the previous example, me is the indirect object, while unos discos (some records) is the direct object, which is a plural masculine noun that according to our table is substituted by los (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: me los trajo (he brought them to me).

Now, the pronoun te is used to substitute either the direct object:

Y de este lado sólo te revuelca, pero del otro lado te come
And from this side it only pushes you around, but from the other side it eats you
Caption 37,38, Antonio Vargas - Artista - Comic - Part 1

or the indirect object:

Bueno y por eso te traje las aspirinas.
Well, and that's why I brought you the aspirins.
Caption 36, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 7

In the previous example, te is the indirect object, while las aspirinas (the aspirins) is the direct object, which is a plural feminine noun that according to our table is substituted by las (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: te las traje (I brought them to you).

For the third person of singular (him, her, it & formal "you"), though, Spanish uses lola for direct object and le for indirect object. So, for a feminine noun as cicatriz (scar) in the direct object position we use la (in genderless English we use "it"):

Porque tiene una pequeña cicatriz en el brazo que sólo yo conozco porque se la hizo jugando conmigo.
Because he has a small scar on his arm that only I know about because he got it playing with me.
Caption 41,42, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 2

For a masculine noun as pollo (chicken) in the direct object position we use lo (again, English uses "it"):

Ya tenemos listo aquí nuestro pollo.lo decoramos con un poco de ajonjolí y cebollín.
We already have our chicken ready here. And we decorate it with a bit of sesame seeds and chives.
Caption 17, Osos en la cocina - Pollo asiático - Part 1

Take note that lo and la are also used for usted (the formal you) in the direct object position. Lo is used for a noun in the direct object position that designates a male person (Morgan):

Morgan, la Señorita Victoria está enterada de su regreso y lo espera en el escritorio.
Morgan, Miss Victoria is aware of your return and awaits you in the study.
Caption 53, Muñeca Brava 18 - La Apuesta

Or la for a noun in the direct object position that designates a female person (let's say Ms. Gonzalez):

Señora Gonzalez, el doctor la verá a las diez.
Ms. Gonzalez, the doctor will see you at ten.

On the other hand, the indirect object uses a different pronoun le (him, her, it & formal "you"). So, for a masculine noun like muchacho (boy) in the indirect object position we use le:

Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave him
Caption 40,41, La Secta - Consejo - Part 1

And we would also use le if we were talking about una muchacha (a girl):

Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another girl that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave her

Equally, we use le if we are addressing someone formally:

Usted que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the words of advice your mother gave you

Got it? Now a test. How do you substitute not only the indirect object (muchacho, muchacha, usted), but also the direct object los consejos (the words of advise) in the previous examples? This is how:

Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave him

Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave her

Usted que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the ones your mother gave you

It's interesting to note how English can't use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in this particular construction because the wording is odd (it's somehow odd in Spanish as well). So let's simplify the example (the indirect object and indirect pronouns appear in bold):

Mamá dio unos consejos al muchacho / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the boy some words of advise / Mom gave them to him.

Mamá dio unos consejos a la muchacha / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the girl some words of advise / Mom gave them to her.

Mamá dio unos consejos a usted / Mamá se los dio. 
Mom gave you some words of advise / Mom gave them to you.

As you can see, it was now possible to use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in English. But did you notice that Spanish used se instead of le to replace the indirect object this time! Why is that? Well, that's because in Spanish there's a special rule for combining pronouns: when le(s) and lo(s)/la(s) would end up next to each other in a sentence you must use se instead. So you can never say Mamá le los dio, you must say Mamá se los dio. We will learn more about this rule and continue with the plural forms of the direct and indirect pronouns in Part II of this lesson.

Grammar
Caption 1
Intermediate
Caption 37,3084
Beginner
Caption 41,42
Adv-Intermediate
Caption 40,41
Beginner

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