Overview of Direct Object Pronouns:
An object is a noun that comes right after the verb. Consider the following:
- a) Yo como una manzana.
- b) El estudiante lee el libro.
In a), una manzana is a direct object, answering the question "what?"/¿qué? in relation to the verb, i.e." ¿Qué como? Una manzana. "What am I eating? An apple." The same is true of el libro in sentence b). These are both instances of a direct object.
What about the sentence Yo amo a mi hermana?
Here, mi hermana is also a direct object, answering the question "who?"/¿quién? in relation to the verb. The personal a must be used before any person who is an object. It is related to the noun, not the verb.
Direct object pronouns replace direct object nouns, e.g.:
- Yo como una manzana. > Yo la como rápido. "I eat it quickly."
- Ella conoce a Robert. > Ella lo conoce muy bien. "She knows him very well."
In the previous examples, we can ask "What did I eat?"/¿Qué comí? (una manzana), "Who does she know?"/¿A quién conoce? (A Robert), showing that these nouns are indeed direct objects. The pronouns which replace these direct objects in subsequent sentences (la and lo in the two examples just shown) are direct object pronouns.
Spanish direct object pronouns appear in the following table:
||Él me ve. "He sees me."
||Él te ve. "He sees you."
|it, him, you masculine (formal, usted)
||Él lo ve. "He sees him/it/you."
|it, her, you feminine (formal, usted)
||Él la ve. "He sees her/it/you."
||Él nos ve. "He sees us."
||Él os ve. "He sees you."
|them, you masculine (ustedes)
||Él los ve. "He sees them/you."
|them, you feminine (ustedes)
||Él las ve. "He sees them/you."
Note that there is person and number agreement on all the direct object pronouns and gender agreement in the third person lo/la and los/las. Direct object pronouns must agree with the direct object nouns they replace, e.g.:
- Leí el libro. Lo leí anoche. NOT La leí anoche. You cannot use the pronoun la to refer to el libro.
- Ellos nos pegan a nosotros. NOT Ellos los pegan. You cannot use the pronoun los to refer to nosotros.
- Siento bien cuando mi novio me besa (a mí). NOT Siento bien cuando mi novio la besa (a mí). You cannot use the pronoun la to refer to mí/yo.
Position of Direct Object Pronouns
Spanish direct object pronouns come immediately before the conjugated verb, e.g.:
- Yo te veo.
- Ellos los ven.
- Usted la ve.
- Ella nos ve.
Unlike English, direct object pronouns do not normally occur after the conjugated verb, e.g.:
- Yo veo te.
- Ellos ven los.
- Usted ve la.
- Ella ve nos.
There are a few exceptions to this pattern when the pronouns can in fact occur after the verb. When used in a compound tense with either an infinitive verb or present participle following a conjugated verb, the pronouns can occur both before the conjugated verb, as seen in the previous examples, or attached to the end of the infinitive or present participle as a single word, e.g.:
- Mi hermano me va a abrazar. OR Mi hermano va a abrazarme.
- Los debes comer ahora. OR Debes comerlos ahora.
- No la quieren ofender. OR No quieren ofenderla.
- Nos está vigilando el señor. OR Está vigilándonos el señor.
Note that when the pronoun is attached to the present participle, as in the last example, there must be an accent added to maintain the normal stress pattern.
Note also that the pronouns should not separate the two compound verbs, e.g.:
- Mi hermano va me a abrazar.
- Debes los comer ahora.
- No quieren la ofender.
- Está nos vigilando el señor.
In addition, direct object pronouns are also attached to the verb in affirmative imperatives (commands), which also require an added accent, e.g.:
- Cómela. "Eat it."
- ¡Tómalos! "Take them!"
- Escúchame, por favor. "Listen to me, please."
- Direct object pronouns go before the conjugated verb, unlike in English. They can also attach to infinitives or present participles in compound verb phrases, but they cannot separate the verbs in a compound verb phrase.
- The same pronouns, except for the third person le/les, are also used as indirect object pronouns.
- Some varieties use le/les in positions where the standard would call for lo/la and los/las. This is called leísmo, which is common in northern and central Spain. However, standard written Spanish requires the use of direct object pronouns to refer to direct object nouns (even though they are preceded by "personal a").