- Identify direct objects
- Determine whether direct objects need the personal a
- Recognize the appropriate third person singular and plural direct object pronouns
Remember a direct object is the person or thing that directly suffers the action of the verb.
La “a” personal (the personal “a”)
When the direct object of a verb in Spanish is a person, we need to add the preposition “a” in front of that direct object. This personal “a” does not get translated into English, but it needs to be there in Spanish. Pets are an interesting gray area: if the pet is considered to be part of the family, you would use the personal “a” if you did something to the pet (very common with cats and dogs that live in one’s house, whom one might carry or pet, etc.); but otherwise animals don’t get the personal “a”.
- Mamá dejó a los niños en la escuela. (“A” personal because the children are the direct objects of the verb, they are who Mom dropped off.)
- Mamá dejó la masa del pan en el mostrador para subir. (No “a” personal because even though the bread dough is the direct object of the verb–it is what Mom left on the counter to rise–it’s a thing not a person.)
- Tía Sara lleva a su gato Fifi al veterinario. (“A” personal because the cat is the direct object of the verb, Fifi is who is being taken to the vet, and is being considered a part of the family.)
- Juanito mira los peces por horas. (No “a” personal because even though the fish are the direct objects of the verb–they are what Juanito is watching for hours–they are not considered members of the family.)
Third-person direct object pronouns in Spanish
As we saw in Spanish 101 when we learned the subject pronouns, sometimes it becomes tiresome to repeat the name or noun constantly and we use a pronoun like “she” or “they” instead. The same is true of object pronouns. For example the following is repetitious and sounds strange in both Spanish and English:
¿Lavaste los platos? Sí, lavé los platos, sequé los platos y devolví los platos al estante. (Did you wash the dishes? Yes, I washed the dishes, I dried the dishes, and I returned the dishes to the shelf.)
A much more natural way to say this would be:
Note in the example that we have to use the noun once to establish what we are talking about, and after that first time we can switch to the appropriate pronoun, in this case “them”. Just as in English it would be incorrect to say “I washed they”, in Spanish the direct object pronouns are not the same as the subject pronouns.
- It / her = la
- It / him = lo
- Them (masc.) = los
- Them (fem.) = las
¡OJO! Preview of coming attractions: There is another set of object pronouns in Spanish, the indirect object pronouns, which don’t exist as distinct words in English. So there are two ways to translate “it / him / her” and “them”! Make sure that you use one of the above pronouns when the object is directly receiving (suffering) the action of the verb. Once we get the hang of the direct object pronouns, we’ll move on to the indirect ones in Unit 9.
Position of object pronouns in Spanish
Learning the pronouns themselves is only part of using them in Spanish: you need to learn where to put them in the sentence. Look back at the example above about the dishes. Did you notice that the Spanish object pronouns have a different position in the sentence, relative to the verb, as compared to the English object pronouns?
The basic rule in Spanish is that object pronouns are placed BEFORE the verb, whereas in English the pronouns come after the verb. This is the same placement rule that you learned in Unit 7 for the reflexive pronouns. Let’s review the object pronoun placement rule in the context of this new kind of pronouns:
- ¿Los platos? Los lavé. (The dishes? I washed them.)
- ¿El piso? No lo barrí. (The floor? I didn’t sweep it.)
- ¿La basura? Tú la sacaste. (The garbage? You took it out.)
- ¿Los estantes? Nosotros no los sacudimos. (The shelves? We did not dust them.)
Note that *nothing* comes between the object pronoun and its verb. If there’s a subject noun or pronoun, that will come first. If there’s a “no”, that will come next. Then comes the object pronoun, and then the verb completes the thought.
Remember that when the verb has an infinitive or a gerund, you have the option of tacking the object pronoun onto the end of those forms, or you could still put the object pronoun before the conjugated verb.
- ¿Los platos? Necesito lavarlos. -o- Los necesito lavar. (I need to wash them.)
- ¿El piso? No debes barrerlo. -o- No lo debes barrer. (You should not sweep it.)
- ¿La basura? Tú estás sacándola. -o- Tú la estás sacando. (You are taking it out.)
- ¿Los estantes? Nosotros no estamos sacudiéndolos. -o- Nosotros no los estamos sacudiendo. (We are not dusting them.)
Be careful to add an accent mark to the gerund to preserve the stress placement when you tack a pronoun onto the end of it. An extra accent mark is not necessary when tacking just one pronoun to the end of an infinitive.