In the early stages of learning Spanish, building your vocabulary is the most important goal. Grammatical skills won’t help you if you don’t have the words to express yourself!
From the very beginning, you should focus on speaking and listening to real, authentic Spanish.
As part of your Spanish language journey, you will learn specific grammar rules and figure out how to use them in everyday conversation.
Even revising grammar will be easier if you have regular Spanish conversations to practice what you learn. It’s possible that you’re even learning the names and rules of things you already know intuitively.
You probably already use indirect object pronouns if you have been reading, listening, and speaking Spanish with a language partner or tutor!
Perhaps you already are at a point where you have specific questions about which pronoun to use.
The purpose of this article is to address that issue. In it, you will find…
- The difference between direct and indirect object pronouns
- The 6 indirect object pronouns in Spanish
- Which verbs take indirect objects
- Using indirect object pronouns
- How to order direct and indirect object pronouns in the same sentence
There’s no need to feel alone if you’re confused about direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish.
But don’t worry.
By the time you finish this article, you will be able to…
- Recognise indirect object pronouns that you may already be using
- Confidently fit direct object pronouns in your everyday conversations
- AND correctly order multiple pronouns in a single sentence
Spanish Direct Object Pronouns vs. Indirect Object Pronouns: What’s The Difference?
If you’ve read my article on direct object pronouns, you’ll remember that direct object pronouns are pronouns that replace the direct object that accompanies transitive verbs like llamar (to call), seguir (to follow), and encontrar (to find).
If you don’t need the full explanation, here’s how direct object pronouns work:
Direct objects answer the questions “what?” and “whom?” after each transitive verb.
Here’s an example:
- Llamé a mi hermano (I called my brother)
- Lo llamé (I called him)
Who did I call? Mi hermano (my brother).
In the second sentence, the pronoun lo replaces mi hermano as the object accompanying the verb llamar (to call).
Indirect object pronouns, on the other hand, answer the questions “to whom?” and “for whom?”
- Le compré un libro a mi hermano (I bought a book for my brother)
- Le compré un libro (I bought a book for him)
I bought a book for whom? In this sentence, the indirect object pronoun answers that question. I bought the book for mi hermano, which is replaced by the indirect object pronoun le.
That’s the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns:
- Direct object pronouns receive the direct action of the verb. They tell you who or what is called, kicked, searched for, etc.
- Indirect object pronouns are indirectly affected by the verb. They tell you for whom something is bought, given, told, etc.
Spanish Indirect Pronouns
In Spanish, there are only six indirect object pronouns to remember:
- me (to/for me)
- te (to/for you)
- le (to for him/her, you (formal))
- nos (to/for us)
- os (to/for you (informal, plural)
- le (to/for them, you (plural/formal))
In the previous examples, you might have noticed another difference between direct and indirect object pronouns…
When the indirect object pronoun (the le in our example) is also used, third-person indirect objects appear in the sentence:
- Le compré un libro a mi hermano (I bought a book for my brother)
Because third-person indirect object pronouns are not gender-specific.
To avoid confusion, the indirect object is often stated along with the pronoun.
What Spanish verbs take indirect objects?
A verb’s ability to take an indirect object depends on how it is used in the sentence. Here are two very similar sentences. In the first, decir does not take an indirect object. In the second, it does.
- Dije que no iría a la fiesta (I said I would not go to the party)
- Te dije que no iría a la fiesta (I told you that I would not go to the party)
The following verbs often take indirect objects, when they are performed for or to someone:
- comprar(le) algo (to buy something)
- contar(le)/decir(le) algo (to tell or say something)
- dar(le) algo (to give something)
- mostrar(le) algo (to demonstrate or show something)
- pedir(le) algo (to ask something of someone)
- regalar(le) algo (to gift something)
- servir(le) algo (to serve something)
- traer(le) algo (to bring something)
In Spanish, there are a few verbs that always require an indirect object:
- encantarle (to love something)
- faltarle (to miss something)
- gustarle (to like something)
- tocarle (to be someone’s turn)
- hacerle falta (to need something)
- importarle (to be interested in)
How To Use Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns
Can you tell me how to say, “They like to dance” in Spanish? You know how to use indirect object pronouns if you do.
Let’s take a closer look at some examples:
- Les gusta bailar (They like to dance)
- Josué me regaló un libro de poesía (Joshua gave me a book of poetry)
The indirect object pronoun is fairly straightforward in these examples. Pronouns come before conjugated verbs and after subjects.
The subject of the first sentence is not stated. You could also say, A ellos les gusta bailar. in which case, the subject would come before the indirect object pronoun. ¿De acuerdo?
Infinitives and progressive verbs can also use indirect object pronouns…
- Josué quiere regalarme un libro de poesía (Joshua wants to give me a book of poetry)
- Dame esas tijeras (Give me those scissors)
- El profesor está mostrándonos la solución (The professor is showing us the solution)
¡Ojo!: In that last example, notice the accent. If you add one or more pronouns to the end of a verb, an accent may be necessary to maintain the natural pronunciation.
Ordering Direct And Indirect Spanish Pronouns
It is impossible to have an indirect object without a direct object.
Here’s an example…
- Andrés nos contó la historia de su viaje a Rumania (Andrés told us the story of his trip to Romania)
In this sentence, Andrés told something (the story of his trip to Romania) to someone (us).
- What he tells is the direct object.
- To whom he tells it is the indirect object.
It would be possible to replace both objects with pronouns and have the following…
- Andrés nos la contó (Andrés told it to us)
When there is a direct object pronoun and an indirect object pronoun in the same sentence, the indirect object pronoun always comes first.
Direct object pronouns are not generally separated from the transitive verb they modify…even by something as small as an indirect object pronoun.
Other Word Order Changes And Examples
And what about when no or another negative term is part of the sentence? How does that change the pronoun order?
Negative words are generally placed immediately before direct and indirect object pronouns…
- Andrés nunca nos la contó (Andrés never told it to us)
The exception is when the pronoun is attached to the end of the verb. Whenever this occurs, the negative term comes immediately before the verb or verb clause:
- Josué no quiere regalarme un libro de poesía (Joshua doesn’t want to give me a book of poetry)
Here are some other examples of direct and indirect object pronouns:
- Su hermano va a comprarme el boleto. / Su hermano va a comprármelo (Her brother is going to buy me a ticket. / Her brother is going to buy it for me)
- No quiero hacerles la pregunta. / No quiero hacérsela. (I don’t want to ask them the question. / I don’t want to ask them it)
Notice that le/les becomes se when followed by an indirect object pronoun.
What about this sentence that appears to only have an indirect object:
- Eric nos escribe cada semana (Eric writes to us every week)
The direct object of his writing is what he writes, while the indirect object is to whom he writes.
What does Eric write? The direct object is unstated in this case. Every week, Eric writes a letter or an email.
Who does he write them to? To us!
Confidently Using Indirect Object Pronouns
You’re ready to use these six little pronouns whenever you want now that you know how to identify indirect objects and how to use indirect object pronouns properly.
Ultimately, the best way to master indirect object pronouns is to start using them right away when you speak Spanish.
You will make mistakes, but they will be fewer than you think!
Take advantage of the Spanish language and use both direct and indirect object pronouns for convenience and fluency.