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Spanish direct object pronouns explained (in simple language!)

Spanish grammar is hard. What makes it harder? Difficult grammar terms used in explanations. Spanish direct object pronouns can make you want to quit learning altogether. It would be great to finally get a clear explanation, right?

A lot of Spanish online courses and textbooks overuse complex terminology. Authors forget that many learners aren’t familiar with linguistics. With new words in the explanations themselves, it’s challenging to wrap your head around the grammatical concepts Spanish uses.

As if learning Spanish wasn’t hard enough in itself!

At LingoDeer we understand language learning is difficult. One of the ways we make it easier is by explaining everything in common language.

Of course, using some grammatical terms in unavoidable. But, it shouldn’t be done to a level where you end up confused. In our style of teaching we make sure you stay focused, and we help you learn to speak Spanish like a native.

Spanish direct object pronoun is something our students ask about a lot. We thought it would be helpful, to give you a clear run down of the concept.

What Spanish pronouns are there?

Before we get to the Spanish direct object pronouns, let’s start with the basics.

What is a pronoun?

A pronoun is a type of word we use in place of a noun or a noun phrase. You use them everyday in English without thinking about it twice! For example, let’s take a sentence: I enjoy eating chocolate.

  • You can substitute the word “chocolate” with a pronoun “it”.

I enjoy eating it. (it = chocolate)

  • Or, you can use “it” to substitute the whole phrase.

I enjoy it. (it= eating chocolate)

One of the special kinds of pronouns is a personal pronoun. That’s what we use to refer to people.

With this explanation out of the way, you probably wonder about the Spanish personal pronouns. Here they are!

Spanish Pronouns Table

What’s important to remember is that in Spanish each noun has a gender. The gender of the word governs how it behaves in sentences, and what pronoun the word will be substituted with. Among other indicators, the gender will be signalled by the noun’s article.

For example, articles “la” and “una” signal the feminine singular, “el” and “un”, masculine singular, and “las/unas”, and “los/unos” feminine and masculine plurals respectively.

Correct use of articles is notoriously difficult for Spanish learners, even those at an advanced levels! Practice smarter from the outset using LingoDeer.

Before we go on, let’s take a look at one more example of using pronouns. In English people sometimes use personal pronouns when referring to animals. For example,

Have you seen this lovely red squirrel? She’s very fast.

In the sentence above, “she” refers to the squirrel. While in English it’s quite rare to use personal pronouns when talking about non-living objects, in Spanish it’s a grammatical rule. In English, if we use “it” instead of “she” it will not be a mistake, but in Spanish, you’ll have to stick to the gender of the word.

The above sentence in Spanish is:

¿Has visto esta preciosa ardilla roja? Ella es muy rápida.

“La ardilla” (squirrel) is a feminine noun. In the second sentence have to use the word “ella” (she), and it would be a mistake to say “ello es muy rápida”. (ello = it).

What does all this mean for you?

In short, when you learn a new word in Spanish you should always pay attention to its gender. This is so that you can avoid making grammatical mistakes later. As you’ll see below, knowing the gender of the word is essential to be able to use the Spanish direct object pronouns correctly.

Introducing object pronouns: direct & indirect

We learned that a pronoun is used to substitute a noun in a sentence. But, each sentence can have several nouns. Depending on their role and place in a sentence, we can use different pronoun types to replace them.

Let’s look at an example in English.

Mum gives Paula a book.

There are three nouns here: mum, a book, and Paula.

In this simple sentence the word “book” is a direct object. Why? Because this is the thing that the action is done to. The “book” is the object that’s being given.

“Paula”, on the other hand, is an indirect object. How? An indirect object is what adds extra information to the sentence. The sentence would still be grammatically correct and would make sense without “Paula”. The indirect object is often the recipient of the direct object.

Now, if we used the simplest rule and just swapped the nouns in the sentence for pronouns we’d end up with: She gives she it.

That hardly makes sense, right? Your intuition tells you the correct way to do it is: She gives it to her.

You notice constricting this sentence required three changes:

  • “She” turned into “her”.
  • “It” changed places and was put immediately after “gives”.
  • A preposition “to” was added before “her”.

That’s what happens in English.

Through years of speaking the language you’ve developed an intuition to quickly make such changes as you speak. After reading this article and a few rounds of Spanish practice at LingoDeer, you’ll be well on your way to developing a similar intuition in Spanish.

Let’s dive in!

What are the types of objects in Spanish?

Now that we’re clear about the concepts, we can dig in a little deeper.

There are three basic types of object pronouns in Spanish.

  • Direct object pronoun
  • Indirect object pronoun, and
  • Reflexive pronoun.

There are full books and PhDs written about each of them!

For this article we’ll focus on what you need to know to be able to speak Spanish, rather than discuss its grammar. We’ll cover the basics of Spanish direct object pronouns and what differentiates it from the indirect object pronoun.

The Spanish direct object pronoun

Spanish direct object pronouns are used to replace the word that the action is done to in a sentence. Let’s take a look at a few examples. The underlined words are the ones you’d be replacing, the ones that the action is done to:

  1. 1) Pedro compra las tortas.
    Pedro buys the cakes.

2) Ellos leen un libro.
They read a book.

3) Mamá tira la basura.
Mum throws the rubbish.

Now, let’s introduce what you’d be replacing the nouns with.

Here is a table with the Spanish direct object pronoun.

Spanish Direct Object Pronoun Table

Spanish direct object pronouns: How to use them?

We will continue using the examples from above. Let’s start by understanding what pronouns we’d use in English.

  • Pedro buys them. (them = the cakes)
  • They read it. (it= a book)
  • Mum throws it. (it = the rubbish)

Understanding what pronoun you’d use in English can help you understand how to approach this in Spanish. However, we use it here only to help introduce and explain the new concept of the Spanish direct object pronoun.

You might resort to translating in your head in the early stages of learning, but we wouldn’t advise this method in the long run. Because grammatical concepts in English and Spanish don’t map on to each other, relying on translations can be deceptive.

After this housekeeping note, let’s jump back to learning.

The first step to figuring out how to use the Spanish direct object pronoun is to establish the gender and the number of the noun we’re talking about.

We can then locate the required pronoun in the table above.

Las tortas” is plural, feminine so the direct object pronoun we need is => las

Un libro (it) is singular masculine => lo

La basura (it) singular feminine => la

Step two is to change the order in the sentence. Rather than placing the pronoun where the noun was, we need to place it before the verb. Don’t worry, it might sound complicated, but in reality is pretty simple.

  • Pedro las compra. (las= las tortas)
  • Ellos lo leen. (lo = un libro)
  • Mamá la tira. (la = la basura)

Simple!

Using Spanish direct object pronouns with people

You’d be happy to hear the above covers the more complex part of using the Spanish direct object pronoun. It’s harder to use it with simple nouns, because to do it correctly you need to remember their grammatical gender.

When using the pronouns with people, the situation is easier as we typically know the person’s grammatical gender. Let’s illustrate it with examples.

Ellos bañan a la niña.
They wash the girl.

To use the direct object pronoun we follow the same process as in the section above.

1) Replace the noun, in this case a person, la niña, with the correct pronoun (la).

2) Change the order.

Ellos la bañan.

3) As you now form our LingoDeer Spanish course, we can also skip the pronoun, ellos, and end up with:

La bañan.

A few more examples.

  • El profesor ve a nosotros.
  • El profesor nos ve.
  • La abuela visita a ti.
    La abuela te visita.
  • Los padres no entienden a vosotros.
    Los padres no os entienden.

Spanish indirect object pronoun

The Spanish indirect object pronouns are used to replace the nouns that the direct object belongs to. In other words, the indirect object is something that receives the item or action that’s being done.

In English you can often can recognise the indirect object based on prepositions—like “to”, or “for”—or through asking the questions “to whom?”, or “for whom?”

For example:

  • The baker gives the bread to Sandra. (To whom is the bread given?)
  • Uncle reads a child the book. (To whom is the book read?)
  • Grandma made the dog a sweater. (For whom was the sweater made?)

“Sandra”, “child”, and “the dog” are all indirect objects in the sentences above.

In Spanish:

  • El panadero da el pan a Sandra.
  • El tió lee el libro a un niño.
  • La abuela hizo al perro un suéter.

You are probably curious to supplement your knowledge of the Spanish direct object pronouns with the indirect ones. The best news is…you know almost all of them already! How come? Because they are almost the same.

Spanish Indirect Object Pronoun Table

Spanish indirect object pronoun: How to use it?

Once you know how to use the Spanish direct object pronoun, the indirect one will be a piece of cake.

The process is the same as with the direct object and we can summarise it with a simple rule: 1) Replace, 2) Change the order.

What is the correct order here? The order is the same as with the direct object— the indirect object pronoun has to be placed before the verb.

For example:

1) Mi profesora compra el libro para mí.

Mi profesora me compra el libro.
My teacher buys me a book.

2) Preparo tragos para tus amigos.

Les preparo tragos.
I prepare drinks for them.

3) Vende coches a vosotros.

Os vende coches.
I sell cars to you.

There is just one additional step. The indirect object pronouns have to be mentioned even if the indirect object remains present in the sentence. We know, this sounds really convoluted!

Here is how it looks like in practice.

Extra credit:

If we wanted to keep the phrase “para mí” in the sentence above—for example for emphasis— we’d still need to add the indirect object pronoun.

The sentence would then look like this:

Mi profesora me compra el libro para mí.

Bonus

Now that you’re an expert as it comes to the Spanish direct and indirect object pronouns, we can introduce a special, advanced scenario. A case where you use both types of pronouns in one sentence.

Let’s illustrate this with one of the examples above.

Mi profesora compra el libro para mí.

You can see the sentence has two objects: direct—el libro, and indirect—para mí.

How to turn them into pronouns?

  1. 1) Replace. You’d start as before, by replacing the objects with appropriate pronouns.

el libro = lo
para mí = me

2) Change the order. You know both pronouns should stand before the verb. But, in what order?

The order is: the indirect object pronoun goes first, followed by the direct object pronoun. In other words, first we say who the recipient is (indirect object), and then what they are receiving (direct object).

Answer:
Mi profesora me lo compra.

Here are several more examples. Read them carefully, make sure you understand, and you can later practice these new Spanish skills at LingoDeer!

Escribo una carta a ti.
=> Te la escribo.

 

Quiero prestar mi bicicleta a ti.
=> Te la quiero prestar.

Spanish direct object pronoun vs Spanish indirect object pronoun

As a quick summary, let’s list the similarities and differences between the two object pronouns we’ve covered.

Aaaand that’s it!

Congratulations on getting this far! The Spanish object pronouns are a tough topic, and there is a lot more to say about both the direct and indirect ones.

If you’re new to the idea, the best way to approach it is to make sure the knowledge sticks before moving on. Practice Spanish on LingoDeer to learn the smart way!

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