In today’s Spanish grammar article, we’re going to be going over one of the most feared topics – Spanish Direct Object Pronouns. But don’t worry, we’ll be going over it in such an easy way, that you’ll be wondering why anyone ever made such a fuss about it.
In Spanish, there are two types of object pronouns: a direct object pronoun and an indirect object pronoun. Once you learn what they are, this topic becomes a piece of cake.
So today we’ll be going over a general idea of what pronouns are in Spanish, then you’ll have a guide to using Spanish direct object pronouns. Let’s get to it!
What are Pronouns
Put simply, pronouns are something that replaces nouns – you remember: people, places, things.
And there are different types of Spanish pronouns based on what is being replaced. A subject pronoun is something that replaces the subject of the sentence. Let’s look at an example in English really quickly.
- José gives the cake to María.
In that sentence, you have a subject (José, the person doing the action). You also have two objects, the cake (which is the object being affected by the action of giving) and María (who is indirectly being affected by the verb, as something is given to her).
Not too complicated yet, right? Well, if you wanted to use some pronouns in English, we could use pronouns to replace all those nouns in sentences. You can use a subject pronoun to replace José. And you can use object pronouns to replace Cake or María. Here are some examples:
- He gives the cake to María.
- José gives it to María
- José gives the cake to her.
- He gives it to her.
In each of those examples, something is being replaced by a different type of pronoun.
- He = Subject Pronoun
- It = Direct Object Pronoun
- Her = Indirect Object Pronoun
It’s as simple as that!
Here’s a pro tip: From here on out, try to think in terms of grammar as you’re learning about direct object pronouns. Because Spanish and English are very different languages, many Spanish students tend to get confused when they try to translate sentences the whole time.
Subject Pronouns in Spanish
First, let’s go over what the subject pronouns in Spanish are. This will help give you a quick idea so you can separate them from the direct object pronouns.
|1st Person Singular||Yo|
|2nd Person Singular||Tú / Usted *|
|3rd Person Singular||Él / Ella|
|1st Person Plural||Nosotros|
|2nd Person Plural||Vosotros / Ustedes *|
|3rd Person Plural||Ellos / Ellas|
You definitely remember these before. These are pronouns that sometimes go with the verb so you know how to conjugate it. It tells you who the subject of the action is. In other words, who is doing the action of the sentence.
This table is here just to give you a reminder of the different types of pronouns you have available in Spanish. This article won’t go in much more detail about subject pronouns, but just so you don’t mix them up with direct object pronouns, you have this table for reference.
Now, let’s move on to the fun stuff!
Direct Object Pronouns in Spanish
A direct object pronoun is something that replaces the direct objects in a sentence. In other words, they substitute the noun that directly receives the action of a verb.
In case you want to look this up in the dictionary, verbs that take direct objects are also referred to as Transitive Verbs.
This will come in handy later, but for now, let’s look at the direct object pronouns in Spanish:
|1st Person Singular||Me||1st Person Plural||Nos|
|2nd Person Singular||Te||2nd Person Plural||Os|
|3rd Person Singular||Le / La / Lo *||3rd Person Plural||Los / Las|
These should be fairly simple to remember, and you’ve probably seen most of them before. So, you can use any of these object pronouns to replace direct objects in a sentence.
Here are some quick examples to understand them:
- Me pegó (He hit me)
- Te pegó (He hit you)
- Le pegó (He hit him)
- La pegó (He hit her)
- Nos pegó (He hit us)
- Os pegó (He hit you all)
- Les pegó (He hit them – males)
- Las pegó (He hit them – females)
So the direct object pronouns replace the person who is being hit. Now that you know what a direct object pronoun is, let’s look at how they work.
Lo has a wide range of use in Spanish that is considered a kind of jack-of-all-trades in the language: as a direct object pronoun, definite article, relative pronoun, and much more. Here is a comprehensive guide for you to master Lo in Spanish.
How Direct Object Pronouns Work
Like mentioned before, the Spanish direct object pronouns are all going to be replacing a noun in the sentence.
Now of course, you can have lots of different kinds of direct objects in any given sentence. They don’t necessarily need to be a person, it can also be a thing or an entire clause that receives the action of the verb.
This means that for 3rd person direct objects, you need to pay attention to its gender and number.
Let’s get right into it and you’ll see how to do that effectively:
Direct Object Pronouns with Things
Many times, the direct object in a sentence is an object, rather than a person. In this case, you should always pay attention to the gender and number, so you know which object pronouns are appropriate.
Check out the following examples:
- Como el pan – Lo como
- Tengo el móvil – Lo tengo
- Veo el coche – Lo veo
In all of those cases, the direct objects were masculine, singular nouns (el pan, el móvil, el coche), so the correct direct object pronoun was Lo.
However, if you were to change it up:
- Tiene la torta – La tiene
- Compró las flores – Las compró
- Vendió los coches – Los vendió
In all of these examples, the direct objects are different, so each one has a different direct object pronoun to go with it.
This is one of the big reasons why it’s important to remember the gender of nouns in Spanish – if you want to use the correct direct object pronoun to speak more fluently, you need to use the correct gender!
Direct Object Pronouns with People
With people, it can become a little trickier because you have a lot more options at your disposal. That’s because a person can be a direct object in many different forms. It could be first person, second, or third person.
Let’s look at the following examples:
- María besó a Juan – María lo besó
- La madre castigó a sus hijos – La madre los castigó
- Tom pegó a mí – Tom me pegó **
- Quiero a ti – Te quiero **
** The last two examples sound a little unnatural without the direct object pronoun, so they are just here for reference.
Here, each direct object in the sentence is replaced by a pronoun that corresponds to it. In the first sentence, “Juan” receives the action of besar. In the second sentence, “sus hijos” receives the action of castigar, etc.
Have you noticed something special about each of the above examples? In all the sentences where there was a person as the direct object in the full sentence, there was an “a” in front of them.
This grammatical concept is called the “a personal” and is absolutely necessary in Spanish. The a personal allows the listener to instantly know what the object of the sentence is, regardless of whether it’s an indirect or a direct object.
Maybe you’re thinking, “what’s the point?” And there is a great explanation behind it! In English, you always have to form a sentence in the order:
- subject + verb + object.
In other words, Tom (subject) hit (verb) Dan (object).
In Spanish, however, you can move things around as much as you want:
- Tom pegó a Dan
- A Dan, Tom pegó
- Le pegó, Tom a Dan
In these cases, the A always tells you who is getting hit, rather than the sentence order. It’s a really great tool that allows Spanish to be such a flexible language. You might also see the pronouns used redundantly for emphasis, like in the last one.
Direct Object Pronouns with Clauses
Finally, the last use of object pronouns is to replace an entire clause (or noun phrase) that is a direct object. For today’s purposes, just think of a clause as a group of words that represent one thing.
In this case, you’ll always need to match the gender and number of the noun clause to the correct direct object pronoun. Let’s look at some examples:
- Compró muchas flores – Las compró.
- Quiero el coche rojo – Lo quiero.
- Cocina muchísimas tartas – Las cocina.
So even if the noun in the sentence is longer, you can still replace it with a quick, short direct object pronoun. This is great in conversation, when you want to refer back to something you already mentioned without being wordy.
- No tengo tiempo para cocinar tantos pasteles de chocolate, pero los tengo que preparar para mañana.
Spanish Direct Object Pronoun Placement
Now that you’ve learned how to use each of the direct object pronouns, it’s important to learn where to put them.
The direct object pronoun placement changes depending on the type of verb you’re using in the sentence. For this article, it should be relatively simple, but once you start including indirect object pronouns into the mix, it gets a little more complicated.
So let’s take things one step at a time and learn how to get direct object pronoun placement under control first.
If you have a conjugated verb as the main action of the sentence, the object pronoun that is directly affected by that verb must come before the verb.
The confusing part for English speakers is that this is the exact opposite of how it works in English. Look at the following pairs:
- Lo compré ayer – I bought it yesterday
- El ladrón las robó – The thief stole them.
- El tornado la destruirá – The tornado will destroy it.
In each of the Spanish sentences, the direct object pronoun goes before the conjugated verb. It can be conjugated in the past, present, or future – it doesn’t matter!
This is also a good spot to have a reminder that “it” in English can have many different meanings. Look at these examples, where it can be translated into either “lo” or “la”. So in your Spanish lessons, be wary of translations!
Gerunds and Infinitives
The next example is with gerunds and infinitives. In these examples, the pronoun replacing the object of the sentence can go before the verbs, or connected to the end of the last verb.
Look at the following examples:
- Lo está estudiando – Está estudiándolo
- No la quiero ver – No quiero verla
- No los puedo comprar – No puedo comprarlos
Here, the rule is to either put them all the way at the beginning or all at the end. This is an all-or-nothing game.
You, as the speaker, have the choice. It really is up to personal preference. Each speaker has their own preferences and, in some regions, one may be more frequent than the other. However, in these types of verb groups, either is acceptable.
Something important to note – the accent mark.
As you can see, Estudiando doesn’t have an accent mark. But when you add the –Lo to the end, you need to place an accent: estudiándolo.
This is because even though we add the object pronoun to the word, we still need to maintain the stress of the original word. So when writing, we need to signify where the stress in the word is.
All you need to do is remember where the original word is stressed, then place an accent mark on it. This only happens on gerunds and when you use two pronouns simultaneously (we’ll get to that another day).
Finally, the last thing you’ll need to learn today about direct object pronouns in Spanish. For command verbs (also known as mandatos or imperative verbs), you must always put them at the end of the verb.
This means that normally, you’re also going to need an accent mark in there to help. Not 100% of the time, but very often it’s necessary to get it all together.
Let’s check out some examples of commands with direct object pronouns.
- Tienes que decirlo – Dilo
- Tienes que comprar las flores – Cómpralas
- Tienes que lavar los platos – Lávalos
In all of these examples, when forming the imperative version of the verbs, you must add the pronoun to the end of the verb. In these cases, you also end up adding an accent mark for most verbs.
You don’t need to use an accent mark when the command verb is only one syllable. This happens in verbs such as:
- Venir – Ven
- Ir – Ve
- Tener – Ten
- Ser – Se
In all other examples, however, you’ll need to include an accent mark in order to maintain the original stress of the word.
So, to review direct object pronoun placement in Spanish:
- Conjugated verbs – pronoun must go before
- Gerunds and Infinitive – pronoun can go either before or at the end
- Commands – pronoun must go at the end
And there you have it!
¡Ya lo has hecho!
That’s all there is to direct object pronouns in Spanish. Although a lot of people tend to have difficulty with this topic, it isn’t so hard.
The problems start coming when you end up combining this with other grammar topics all at once. However, the best way to gain fluency and start making it easier for you is with practice. That’s why you should practice these grammar topics as much as possible.
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