Direct objects receive a verb’s action in standard sentences. When we already know who or what the direct object is, it’s standard practice in both English and Spanish to simply use direct object pronouns to replace the nouns.
In English the direct object pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, and them. In this post we’ll focus on the direct object pronouns Spanish uses: me, te, lo, la, nos, los, and las.
First we’ll just do a refresher on direct objects, along with a clear list of Spanish direct object pronouns and when to use them. Then we’ll cover common sentence structures using the direct objects in Spanish. Finally, we’ll do a quick review of the other personal pronouns in Spanish so you can keep them all distinct. Now let’s get started!
Direct Object Pronouns: Spanish Basics
What is a direct object?
Before we go any further, let’s just make sure we’re clear on what exactly the direct object is: it’s the noun in the sentence which receives the action of a transitive verb. It’s also known as the complement.
Let’s see this in action with the simple sentence structure [subject] + [verb] + [direct object]:
Justin sees Allison. She waters the plants. You brought a gift. The children saw Harold. Maude broke the chair.
What is a direct object pronoun?
Whether in English or Spanish, direct object pronouns can replace the nouns when we already know what we’re referring to. We can apply this to the short sentences from the previous section:
Justin sees her. She waters them. You brought it. The children saw him. Maude broke it.
Direct object pronouns: Spanish
Now that we’re clear on what we mean by direct object pronouns, let’s see all of them in Spanish:
|Subject pronouns: Spanish||Direct object pronouns: Spanish||Direct object pronouns: English|
|él, ella, usted*||lo, la||him, her, you|
|ellos, ellas||los, las||them|
* Note that when we use the formal second person of usted or ustedes to say “you,” the direct object pronoun needs to match the gender of the person or people it refers to: lo/los for masculine and la/las for feminine.
Now let’s see the Spanish direct object pronouns in some examples:
- They haven’t seen me yet. – Ellas no me han visto todavía.
- I couldn’t find you anywhere. Where were you? – No te encontré en ningún lado, ¿Dónde estabas?
- Shall we bring you lunch or are you going to prepare it? – ¿Te traemos el almuerzo o lo vas a preparar?
- That woman is my neighbor. I just recognized her. – Aquella mujer es mi vecina, la acabo de reconocer.
- I bought a magazine and read it in an hour. – Compré una revista y la leí en una hora.
- My dad always walked us to school. – Mi papá siempre nos acompañaba a la escuela.
- Manuel and his friend need new notebooks. They will buy them at the new bookstore. – Manuel y su amigo necesitan cuadernos nuevos. Los comprarán en la librería nueva.
- Did you find your keys? I haven’t seen them. – ¿Encontraste tus llaves? Yo no las he visto.
Direct Object Pronouns: Spanish Sentence Structure
Now that we’ve learned the different direct object pronouns in Spanish and seen when we can use them, it’s time to look at some specifics of where they’re placed within Spanish sentence structures.
Directly before conjugated verbs
This placement may not be so intuitive to English speakers, though you’ll surely get used to it as you see the Spanish direct object pronouns used in sentences. In contrast to a direct object noun that comes after the conjugated verb like in English, the direct object pronouns always appear directly before the conjugated verbs.
- I see you. – Yo te veo.
- Our grandparents visit us every Sunday. – Nuestros abuelos nos visitan cada domingo.
- Sorry, my dog ate it. – Lo siento, mi perro lo comió.
- Our car was broken, but the mechanic fixed it. – Nuestro auto estaba averiado, pero el mecánico lo arregló.
Before or after infinitives
Sometimes we describe the action using a conjugated verb together with an infinitive. In this construction, the direct object pronoun can either be placed before these verbs, or attached to the end of the infinitive. This is best explained with some examples:
- You need to bring them. – Los necesitas traer. – Necesitas traerlos.
- They shouldn’t hide it. – Ellas no lo deberían ocultar. – Ellas no deberían ocultarlo.
- I want to kiss you. – Te quiero besar. – Quiero besarte.
- Karen can’t see him. – Karen no lo puede ver. – Karen no puede verlo.
Before or after gerunds
When we use the present progressive tense to describe the action, the direct object pronouns can either be placed before the verbs, or attached to the end of the gerund. Let’s see this through some more examples:
- We are writing it. – La estamos escribiendo. – Estamos escribiéndola.
- The security guards are watching us. – Los guardias de seguridad nos están mirando. – Los guardias de seguridad están mirándonos.
- My daughter is tired so I’m carrying her. – Mi hija está cansada, así que la estoy cargando. – Mi hija está cansada, así que estoy cargándola.
- My bike is dirty so I’m cleaning it. – Mi bicicleta está sucia, por eso la estoy limpiando. – Mi bicicleta está sucia, así que estoy limpiandola.
After affirmative imperatives
When we give commands which incorporate direct object pronouns, Spanish calls for attaching them to the end of the imperative form. This only applies if the command is affirmative:
- Take care of them! – ¡Cuídalos!
- Stop pushing me! – ¡Deja de empujarme!
- Turn it off! – ¡Apágalo!
- Look at her! – ¡Mírala!
Before negative imperatives
If the command is negative, the direct object pronoun goes before the verb and after the negation adverb “no.”
- Don’t listen to them! – ¡No los escuches!
- Don’t read it! – ¡No lo leas!
- Don’t love her! – ¡No la ames!
- Don’t touch me! – ¡No me toques!
All the Personal Pronouns in Spanish
So far we’ve kept our focus of this post on the direct object pronouns in Spanish, which are just one of the four groups of Spanish personal pronouns. You’re probably very familiar with the subject pronouns. What about the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns? Spanish also has the reflexive pronouns to be familiar with. Let’s compare them all here!
In this table we highlight the Spanish direct object pronouns, while showing them alongside the other three groups so you can recognize them all. For full explanations of each, you click on the links to see their dedicated posts.
|Subject pronouns, Spanish||Direct object pronouns, Spanish||Indirect object pronouns, Spanish||Reflexive pronouns, Spanish|
|él, ella, usted||lo, la||le||se|
|ellos, ellas||los, las||les||se|
With that, you should be ready to recognize and use all of the Spanish direct object pronouns: me, te, lo, la, nos, los, and las.
As the recipients of a verb’s action, we first looked at what exactly constitutes a direct object or Spanish complement in a sentence, as well as seeing how we can replace those nouns with direct object pronouns in Spanish. We learned about their placement in sentences, and that they’re sometimes attached directly to the end of certain verb forms. We finished up by seeing the direct object pronouns compared with all the other Spanish personal pronouns.
Now you’re ready to use the direct object pronouns as you continue mastering Spanish!