Overview of Indirect Object Pronouns:
An indirect object comes after a preposition that follows the verb. It is called "indirect" because of the intervening preposition (most often a) and because it is an indirect recipient or beneficiary of the verbal action. Consider the following:
- Digo la verdad a mi hija.
In the previous example, la verdad is a direct object since it follows the verb directly while a mi hija is an indirect object since it is the receiver of the direct object.
Within the category of indirect objects, we also include nouns that follow verbs like hablar that are always used with the preposition a, e.g.:
Note that this is different from "personal a" which is used before direct objects that are animate.
Indirect object pronouns replace the indirect object nouns when they have already been mentioned and are understood, e.g.:
- Yo digo la verdad a mi amigo > Yo siempre le digo la verdad. ("I always tell him the truth.")
- Ella da el regalo a Robert > Ella le da el regalo. ("She gives him the gift.")
An indirect object answer the question "to/for whom?"/¿a/para quién? and is often the recipient of the direct object. For instance, in the previous example, we can ask "To whom does she give the gift?" ¿A quién le da el regalo? (A Robert). The person being given (and therefore receiving) the gift is Robert. We know then that the pronouns that refer back to indirect objects nouns are indirect object pronouns.
Spanish indirect object pronouns appear in the following table along with the indirect objects they refer to:
||indirect object phrase
||Él me regaló un libro (a mí). ("He gave me a book.")
|"to you" (informal tú)
||Él te regaló un libro (a ti). ("He gave you a book.")
|"to him/her/you" (formal usted)
||Él le regaló un libro (a él/ella/usted). ("He gave him/her/you a book.")
||Él nos regaló un libro (a nosotros). ("He gave us a book.")
|"to you" (informal plural vosotros)
||Él os regaló un libro (a vosotros). ("He gave you a book.")
|"to them/you" (formal ustedes)
||Él les regaló un libro (a ellos/ellas/ustedes). ("He gave them/you a book.")
Indirect object pronouns must agree in person and number with the indirect object they refer to. Note that most of the indirect object pronouns are the same as the direct object pronouns, except for the third person. Unlike the direct object pronouns that are lo/la and los/las in the third person, the indirect object pronouns are le/les WITHOUT any gender agreement.
Not all verbs can take an indirect object or indirect object pronoun (it depends on the meaning of the verb). When you learn a new verb, look at the example sentences given and pay attention to the kinds of noun phrases (subjects, direct objects, indirect objects) used with the verb. Some common verbs that take indirect objects are: dar, regalar, decir, hablar, mostrar, traer, llevar, comprar, escribir, prestar, alquilar, and recomendar.
It is also important to note that the indirect objects themselves can appear in the same phrase along with the pronouns, especially in order to emphasize or clarify (particularly in the ambiguous third person) exactly who is receiving the direct object, e.g.:
- Le recomendé el pastel de chocolate al Señor García.
- Me presta su coche a mí, no a ti.
- Les escribe una carta de gracias a ustedes.
Note also that Spanish uses the forms conmigo ("with me"), contigo ("with you") and consigo ("with himself/herself"). It does not use con mí or con ti.
Position of Indirect Object Pronouns
Unlike English, Spanish indirect obect pronouns come immediately before the conjugated verb, just like the direct object pronouns, e.g.:
- Mi hermano me lee las noticias (a mí). "My brother reads me the news."
- Ella te compró un suéter (a ti). "She bought you a sweater."
- Yo le doy un carro (a mi hijo). "I give him a car."
They do not usually go after the verb, unlike English, e.g.:
- Mi hermano lee me las noticias (a mí).
- Ella compró te un suéter (a ti).
- Yo doy le un carro (a mi hijo).
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 in the previous examples, or attached to the end of the infinitive or present participle as a single word, e.g.:
- Mi hermano te va a mandar una carta. OR Mi hermano va a mandarte una carta.
- Les debes encontrar una casa nueva. OR Debes encontrarles una casa nueva.
- No le quieren decir nada. OR No quieren decirle nada.
- Nos están dando mucha información equivocada. OR Están dándonos mucha información equivocada.
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 that the pronouns should not separate the two compound verbs, e.g.:
- Mi hermano va te a mandar una carta.
- Debes les encontrar una casa nueva.
- No quieren le decir nada.
- Están nos dando mucha información equivocada.
In addition, indirect object pronouns are attached to the verb in affirmative imperatives (commands), which also require an added accent (unless the verb is only 1 syllable long), e.g.:
- Dale la comida. "Give him/her the food."
- Mándanos una sorpresa. "Send us a surprise."
- Cómprame un café, por favor. "Buy me a coffee, please."
- Remember, indirect 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 lo/la and los/las, are also used as direct object pronouns.
- Some varieties of Spanish blend the use of direct and indirect object pronouns in the third person. Some use lo/la and los/las in positions where the standard would call for le/les. This is called loísmo and laísmo and is common in . Other 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. Be aware though that standard written Spanish requires indirect object pronouns to refer to indirect object nouns.