Unlike in English, when it comes to indirect object pronouns, it’s actually quite easy in Spanish! Finally – a Spanish grammar topic that’s way easier!
But like all things grammar-related, it does take just a bit of practice at the beginning to get things right. So in this article, we’ll be going over everything you need to know to master indirect object pronouns in Spanish!
What is an Indirect Object Pronoun?
An indirect object pronoun is something that replaces indirect objects in a sentence. The truth is, you probably already know what they are. Of course, when we walk in grammar terms – things seem confusing. But let’s look at an example sentence in English:
- Alejandro gave the apple to his daughter.
In that example, “Alejandro” is the subject. “Gave” is the verb. The “apple” is the direct object and “his daughter” is the indirect object.
“His daughter” is the indirect object because it is indirectly affected by the action word.
Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns Chart
In Spanish, you have a different indirect object pronoun for each person (1st, 2nd, 3rd, singular, and plural). Check out this chart with the indirect object pronouns:
|Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns||English Indirect Object Pronouns|
|Me (1st person singular)||Me|
|Te (2nd person singular)||You|
|Le (3rd person singular)||Him/Her/Them|
|Nos (1st person plural)||Us|
|Os (2nd person plural)||You / You all / Y’all|
|Les (3rd person plural)||Them|
So in a sentence, you would use these pronouns to replace any indirect objects. The great news is that gender doesn’t matter, unlike with direct object pronouns.
So whether it’s him or her, you still use the indirect object pronoun Le in Spanish. So it’s even easier than you probably expected!
How to Identify an Indirect Object
Now that you know what the indirect object pronouns are, you need to know when to use them. There is an easy way to distinguish between the indirect object and the direct object in a sentence.
To identify the direct object, ask yourself: What/Who is the action being done on?
To identify the indirect object, ask yourself: What/Who is the action being done for?
In other words, the direct object directly receives the action of the verb, but the indirect object is affected by that action on something else
Let’s look at some example sentences:
- Compré un regalo para mi amigo – I bought a present for my friend.
- Escribió una carta para su abuela – He wrote a letter for his grandmother.
The main actions in these sentences are Compré and Escribió. So let’s use our object-identifier questions.
What was bought (from compré)?
And what was written (from escribió)?
So the direct objects are Un regalo and Una carta.
Now we can do the exact same steps to identify the indirect objects.
Who was the present for?
And who was the letter for?
Those are the indirect objects. You can also identify these by asking the question “For whom”. So if you didn’t know how to use “whom” before, now you do!
So de nada, an English and Spanish grammar lesson for the price of one!
Where to Place Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns
Now that we got some of the conceptual problems out of the way for object pronouns in Spanish, it’s time to figure out how to actually use them. They can be used in conjunction with direct objects or with direct object pronouns, so keep in mind that there are a lot of possibilities. But let’s go over those options one at a time.
General Placement Rules
The first thing we need to know is what we are replacing. If a verb has an indirect object in the sentence, you can replace it with its corresponding indirect object pronoun. Usually, they will go before the verb, but we’ll see there are other options as well.
Before looking at each example, it’s good to know how to check to see if you’re using the indirect object pronoun in a grammatically correct way. If you ever have any doubts – just write out the full sentence and ask yourself each of the questions.
What/Who is the action being done on and What/Who is the action being done for?
For conjugated verbs, the pronouns always go before the verb. They should appear like this in the following sentences:
- Le compró flores. – He/She bought him/her flowers.
- Te regalaron un reloj. – They bought you a watch as a gift.
Nos regó las plantas. – He watered the plants for us.
The last example is technically a dative case, but for the purpose of having some more understandable Spanish lessons, think of it as an indirect object. That type of structure can be explored another day.
So anytime you conjugate a verb, other than when using a gerund or a command, the indirect object pronouns should go to the beginning.
Infinitive Verbs and Gerunds
If you have a verb in its infinitive form, then you can add the indirect object pronoun to the end of the verb or put it at the very beginning. This is true even if you have a perífrastic/compound verb. Check out these sample sentences:
- No le voy a comprar el videojuego. – I’m not going to buy him the video game.
- Ella puede cocinarles algo especial. – She can cook something special for them.
- Nos está acompañando a la parada de autobús. – He’s walking us to the bus stop.
- Ahora tu padre está comprándonos un nuevo sillón. – Now your father is buying us a new armchair.
Just remember that for the gerunds, if you add the indirect object pronoun to the end, then you’ll also need an accent mark!
For affirmative commands, the indirect object pronoun must always go to the end! And usually, you’ll also need to include an accent mark unless the command verb is only one syllable.
For negative commands, it must always go to the beginning.
Check out the following examples:
- Pregúntales. – Ask them.
- No le digas eso. – Don’t say that to them.
- Recuérdame que compre tomates. – Remind me to buy tomatoes.
While this sounds like a pretty scary word, it has a very simple meaning:
That’s because there are times when native speakers will use both the indirect object pronouns and the indirect object in the same sentence. In fact, sometimes it’s actually required to use both the indirect object pronouns and the indirect object in the same sentence!
While this is a bit more of an advanced understanding of the indirect pronouns – a motivated student like you can absolutely get it. So even if you don’t master this way of using the Spanish indirect object pronouns, at least you can start paying attention to it.
Here are some common ways that redundancy is common:
Emphasis / contrast
Whenever you want to emphasize the object – or there’s a contrast you want to highlight, then you can use both the object and the pronoun in the same sentence. Let’s look at some examples:
- Me castigaron a mí. – They punished me.
- No, a María no le he dado el libro, sino a José. – No, I didn’t give the book to María, but to José.
The first sentence has the use of emphatic repetition. Maybe the person is surprised they got punished. In other words, the stress is on the a mí because they can’t believe it. So there is actually a difference in meaning that is really useful.
In the second sentence, there is a contrastive statement. So in order to avoid confusion, they’re using redundancy.
Object before the verb
Whenever the a mí / a ti / a él, etc. goes before the verb, then you should still use the indirect object pronouns right after. This is because we are emphasizing the object of the sentence, just like in the above example.
So for example you must say:
- A ti te dieron el premio.
But you cannot say:
- A ti dieron el premio.
So in cases like this, the redundancy is actually necessary.
And this applies to any object that goes before the verb. So the following redundancies are also necessary:
- A Juan le regalaron un suéter. – They gave Juan a sweater as a present.
- A mi madre le he dicho la verdad. – I told my mom the truth.
Some verbs like molestar, divertir, interesar, cansar
There are some verbs in Spanish that refer to an emotion or a mental state. Things like bother, enjoy, interest, tire out, etc. For these verbs, the redundancy with the indirect object pronouns is optional. And in fact, it’s very common in spoken Spanish – but less frequent in writing. Here are some examples:
- No me gusta nadar, es que a mi me cansa demasiado – I don’t like to swim because it tires me out too much
- ¿A ti te molestan los mosquitos también? – Are the mosquitos bothering you, too?
- Le pareció bien al jefe nuestro plan – The boss liked our plan.
Spanish Direct Object Pronouns
Need a quick reminder about direct object pronouns, too? Make sure to check out our definitive guide on Spanish direct object pronouns.
Multiple Object Pronouns in Spanish
Finally, the most important part of today’s lesson. What do you do if you have both a direct object pronoun and an indirect object pronoun in the same sentence? Well, the order is always:
Indirect object pronoun + Direct object pronoun + Verb
Or, if it goes attached to a gerund, infinitive, or command verb, then it would be:
Verb (Indirect Object Pronoun) (Direct Object Pronoun).
So you can get things like “¿Me los compras?” Will you buy them for me? Or as a command, you could say, “Cómpramelos”, buy them for me.
If you have a direct object and an indirect object that are both in the third person, singular or plural, then the Le or Les changes to a Se.
José va a regalar un iPhone a Marcos — José lo va a regalar — José se lo va a regalar / José va a regalárselo.
This last change is absolutely crucial, so if you ever have two pronouns in the third person, don’t forget to change the indirect objects to Se!
That’s Enough Pronouns for One Day
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