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Using Indirect Object Pronouns in Spanish

By Anthony / May 12, 2016

Many Spanish learners, me and perhaps you included, have been baffled when facing Spanish indirect object pronouns. However, using them is not nearly as hard as you might think.I tended to misuse or completely ignore these words during my first months learning Spanish.

It took a very logical explanation make it all click immediately in my head – and it was all downhill from there. I even mastered the tricky and ubiquitous “Me gusta” along with its variations in just a few days.

Jordan from Gringo Español breaking down the use of indirect object pronouns

The Basics

Indirect object pronouns (IDOPs) are very common in Spanish, particularly in spoken language. There is no direct, single-word translation for these; so you want to focus on understanding what they mean and learn how to use them. This will make your Spanish sound much more natural.

First let’s clarify what pronouns are: placeholders for certain nouns in a sentence – this means names of people, animals or things. Object pronouns can represent either direct or indirect objects.​

While direct objects are the objects of a verb or action, indirect objects are to/by/for whom that verb or action is performed. In other words, the indirect object implies a both a person and their relationship to the action stated in the direct object.

For example, if you say “Yo tengo un regalo para tí”, the direct object is “Yo tengo un regalo”, a simple sentence to which you added an indirect object stating whom the gift is for. Replacing the indirect object with the corresponding pronoun, the sentence would read “Yo te tengo un regalo”.

Original Sentence

Yo tengo un regalo para tí

(I have a gift for you)

Direct Object

Yo tengo un regalo

(I have a gift)

Indirect Object

-para tí

(for you)

Indirect Objection Pronoun

+te

(for you)

New Sentence

Yo te tengo un regalo

( I have a gift for you)

If you say “Juanita me lee un libro”, the part “Juanita lee un libro” is a simple direct object sentence; adding the indirect object pronoun “me” indicates that Juanita is reading the book to you.​

English Equivalents

While they have no direct equivalents in English, indirect object pronouns are either singular or plural, each related to first, second or third person for a total of six. Here is a list of Spanish indirect object pronouns with their rough English equivalent:

Indirect Object Pronouns


Me: to/for me

Te: to/for you – only for use with familiar you (tú)

Le: to/for he/she/it – also for use with formal you (usted)

Nos: to/for us

Os: to/for you – only for familiar you (plural); use restricted to Spain

Les: to/for them – formal or familiar them in America; restricted to formal them in Spain.

One awesome thing about these pronouns is that you do not have to worry about gender when using them!

How to Use Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns in a Sentence

There are two possible placements for these pronouns.

If there is only one verb in the sentence, always place the indirect object pronoun before it. You can say “Te duele el pie?” to express empathy with your friend after he stepped barefoot on a Lego.

When you have two or more verbs in a row, the last one is always an infinitive (= not conjugated). In this case you can choose to attach it to this last verb or just put it before all verbs as in the first case.

Now that you know this, you can say either “Me quiero tatuar una llama” or “Quiero tatuarme una llama” to express your burning desire to get inked during on your backpacking trip to Perú.

Combining Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns

Using one or the other is pretty straightforward, but when using both in a sentence there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, indirect object pronouns always come before direct object pronouns.

Second, if both object pronouns you are using start with “L”, the indirect object is substituted by the word “se”. That means you say “Me lo como” when referring to yourself, but “Se lo come” when referring to a he/she/it and “Se lo comieron” when referring to they.​

Third, pronoun placement is similar as seen earlier but with the following addition: if you have two or more verbs and choose to attach the object pronouns at the end, remember to add an accent mark to keep the stress of the verb as it originally was. “Me lo quiero comer” can also be “Quiero comérmelo”.

Conclusion​

An indirect object pronoun refers to a person or item, singular or plural, receiving the action described in the verb of the direct object. There are six Spanish indirect object pronouns, one for each grammatical person. They are separate words before the verb, but can also be attached to the last verb if there is more than one.

They can be combined with direct object pronouns, immediately preceding them; in these cases, indirect object pronouns starting with “L” are replaced by “se”. If combined attached to a verb, remember to keep the stress of the original verb by adding an accent mark on the right syllable.​

Once you get the theory, go and practice as much as possible – Grammar is good, but don not forget that communicating with people is the ultimate goal of learning a language!

About the author

Anthony

Coffee drinker, Spanish speaker, habitual traveler, taking life one beautiful day at a time.

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