unstressed direct, indirect pronouns in Spanish

21 Feb 2014

Sometimes I help friends with Spanish grammar, I’m not an expert but I remember I wasn’t that bad on my Spanish classes neither. It’s also a good chance to practice my English, though. Anyway, last time I explained what were unstressed pronouns (pronómbres átonos) and I though it would be cool to start writing about it.

Unstressed object pronouns are used in Spanish to replace direct and indirect objects with pronouns, it’s one of the trickiest Spanish structures and even native speakers can misuse them, so they should be studied carefully. They can be translated sometimes as: me, you, him, her, it, us and them. However people should be aware that they don’t have exactly the same meaning.

To use correctly unstressed object pronouns, you should be able to recognize with ease when a phrase contain either a direct or indirect object. Let me wrap it up, A direct object is the part of the sentence which receives the action of the main verb, it can be discovered by asking what? and whom? to the verb.


Pepe eats fish / Pepe come pescado (what does Pepe eat?)
do(direct object) = fish = pescado

Exercises: Find the direct object in the following sentences

Juan Loves María / Juan ama a María

Carlos fixes computers / Carlos arregla computadoras

The policeman saw the thieves / El policia vio a los ladrones

The indirect object in the other hand is whom receives the action of the direct object, and it can be discovered by asking, to whom?, for whom?.


Lucas buys a watermelon for Sandra / Lucas compra una sandía para Sandra
do (direct object) = a watermelon = una sandía
io(indirect object) = for Sandra = para Sandra

Exercises: Find the direct and indirect object of the following phrases

Margarita made coffee for Marcos / Margarita hizo café para Marcos

Alba gave some tips to her son / Alba dio unos consejos a su hijo

The told the workers to arrive earlier / El jefé dijó a los trabajadores que llegaran más temprano

Once you’re able to identify the existence of an direct/indirect object in a phrase you’ll be able to use the appropriate pronoun. Take a look at the table in the header of this posts.


Pepe eats fish / Pepe come pescado
do=fish=pescado, pescado refers to an animal in third person singular (he, the fish)

It must be replaced with ‘lo’:

Pepe *lo* come (it should be placed by general rule before the main verb)

Let’s review other example:

Juan loves Maria / Juan ama a María
do=a Maria, Maria refers to a person in third person singular (she, Maria)

On this case, ‘a Maria’ must be replaced with ‘la’ (it’s female):

Juan *la* ama

Exercises: Replace the direct object with the appropriate pronoun

Did you find your mother’s ring? / ¿Has encontrado el anillo de tu madre?

Roberto paid a lot of money for his new car / Roberto pagó mucho dinero por su nuevo carro

A friend will translate the book / Un amigo traducirá el libro

The same technique can be used to replace indirect objects.


Lucas buys a watermelon for Sandra / Lucas compra una sandía para Sandra
od=a watermelon=una sandía
id=for Sandra=para Sandra

Sandra refers to a third person in singular (she, Sandra) and it can be replaced with ‘le’ because of being an indirect object. If it were a direct object it would be replaced with ‘la’.

Lucas *le* compra una sandía

Exercises: Replace the indirect object with the appropriate pronoun

Tomorrow I’ll give the money to Eduardo / Mañana entregaré el dinero a Eduardo

I bought a gift for you / Compré un regalo para ti

The donations will be given back to the contributers this year Los donativos de este año serán devueltos a los contribuyentes

Both can be replaced at the same time, the direct and the indirect objects, however when doing it, a new rule applies, whenever a ‘lo’ and ‘le’ gets together, the second one must be replaced with ‘se’ (indirect object).


Lucas buys a watermelon for Sandra / Lucas compra una sandía para Sandra
od=a watermelon=una sandía
id=for Sandra=para Sandra

Lucas la compra para Sandra (replacing the direct object)
Lucas le compra una sandía (replacing the indirect object)
Lucas se la compra (replacing both) 

Pay attention to the ‘se’ which replaces ‘le’ for the indirect object

Exercises: Replace the direct/indirect objects with the appropriate pronouns

I told the girls the reasons of my decision / Les dije a las chicas las razones de mi decisión

Did you get back the chair to the neighbor (female)? / ¿Devolviste la silla a la vecina?

Diana wrote a letter to Hugo / Diana escribio una carta para Hugo

That’s it

keywords, palabras clave: leismo, laismo, loismo, objeto directo, objeto indirecto