In the early stages of learning Spanish, although I don't recommend getting bogged down in grammar, there will come a time when you'll need to know specific grammar rules to progress in Spanish.
If you've navigated to this article about direct object pronouns, you may be at that point already!
Learning the ins and outs of Spanish grammar, like how to use direct object pronouns, will be useful for you as your Spanish ability progresses from beginner to intermediate.
In this post, you'll find out:
- What transitive verbs are
- How to tell if a verb is transitive
- What direct objects are
- The must-know info about pronouns and antecedents
- What the eight Spanish direct object pronouns are
- How to use direct object pronouns in a sentence
I'll start by explaining some grammar basics in English before moving on to ejemplos in Spanish to have you using direct object pronouns like a pro.
#1 Transitive Verbs And Direct Objects Explained
Transitive verbs are verbs that need a direct object. One easy way to determine whether or not something is a transitive verb is to use it in a sentence by itself.
“I poured” doesn't really make sense by itself. What did I pour? Ella tiene is also incomplete. What does she have?
Here are some of the most common transitive verbs in Spanish—verbs you've probably been using since you first started your Spanish learning journey:
- tener (to have)
- decir (to say)
- saber (to know)
- querer (to want)
- poner (to put)
- creer (to believe)
- llevar (to take)
- dejar (to leave)
- seguir (to follow)
- encontrar (to find)
- soprender (to surprise)
- practicar (to practice)
- ayudar (to help)
- conocer (to know)
- tomar (to take)
- comer (to eat)
Each of these verbs, as well as all other transitive verbs, requires a direct object to complete a sentence or thought.
The direct object is what answers the questions “what?” and “whom?” after each transitive verb.
Take a look at the following sentences to see how transitive verbs and direct objects work together:
- Cada mañana, Marta lee un libro antes de sus clases. (Every morning, Marta reads a book before her classes.)
- Luis pateé la pelota. (Luis kicked the ball.)
In the first example, un libro answers the question, “What does Marta read?”
In the second sentence, the question is, “What did Luis kick?” Luis kicked the ball, so la pelota is the direct object.
Direct objects are not always things. They can also be people and entire noun phrases:
- Cada mañana, Marta lee un libro divertido o romántico antes de sus clases. (Every morning, Marta reads a funny or romantic book before her classes.)
- Luis pateé a Carlos. (Luis kicked Carlos.)
Whether the direct object is a thing, person, or noun phrase, it functions in the same way: receiving the action of the sentence's transitive verb.
#2 What You Actually Need To Know About Pronouns & Antecedents
Don't let the grammar technicalities discourage you. You probably already know all about pronouns and antecedents…even if you don't realise it yet.
That's because most people understand the specifics of grammar in their native language intuitively. You know what to say (or not to say) because it simply sounds right (or wrong).
While you probably don't need to know the grammar terms to speak English correctly, it's not a bad idea to learn them in English before trying to learn them in Spanish.
If your goal is to master direct object pronouns in Spanish, it will help to know what a pronoun and antecedent are before adding the extra complication of direct objects.
Here are the basics, in case you're not familiar with them.
Pronouns Are Words That Replace A Noun
Instead of, “John is going to Mallorca tomorrow after John gets off work,” you can replace one (or both) of the “Johns” with a pronoun: “John is going to Mallorca tomorrow after he gets off work.”
Here are some common pronouns in English and Spanish:
- I, me/yo
- you/tú, Usted
- he, him/él
- she, her/ella
- we, us/nosotros
- they, them/ellos, ellas
- it/él, lo, la, le, ello, ella
Pronoun antecedents are nothing more than the words replaced by pronouns. In our earlier example, “he” is the pronoun and “John” is the antecedent.
Even if you don't remember the actual term, you'll want to be able to confidently identify the antecedent so you can be sure you're using the correct direct object pronoun in complex sentences.
Now that we've figured out all of the individual parts, it's time to jump in to direct object pronouns.
#3 What Are Spanish Direct Object Pronouns?
Direct object pronouns, in both English and Spanish, are pronouns that replace the direct object that accompanies a transitive verb.
There are eight direct object pronouns in Spanish:
Direct object pronouns replace a direct object noun in a sentence. Those direct objects can be people, things, or noun phrases. Here are some examples:
Direct Objects: People
When the direct object is a person, it's preceded by what's known as “the personal a”, as you can see in the following examples:
- Llamé a mi hermano. (I called my brother.)
- Lo llamé. (I called him.)
- Los tres perros siguen a los niños hasta la escuela. (The three dogs followed the children to the park.)
- Los tres perros los siguen hasta la escuela. (The three dogs followed them to the park.)
¡Ojo!: The more complex the sentence, especially with multiple people, the easier it is to get confused when it comes to choosing the correct direct object pronoun to use. Remember that the antecedent is the person receiving the action, not the subject performing it.
Direct Objects: Things
Direct object pronouns are fairly straightforward when the antecedent is a thing. Just be careful to match the gender of the antecedent when you select which direct object pronoun to use.
- Marco toca la guitarra con su grupo musical cada fin de semana. (Marco plays guitar with his band each weekend.)
- Marco la toca con un grupo musical cada fin de semana. (Marco plays it with his band each weekend.)
- Nosotros no bebemos la cerveza. (We don't drink beer.)
- Nosotros no la bebemos. (We don't drink it.)
Direct Objects: Phrases
If you find yourself getting lost trying to identify the antecedent in a long sentence, remember that the direct object pronoun will replace the entire noun phrase.
- Los estudiantes comen muchas manzanas frescas. (The students eat many fresh apples.)
- Los estudiantes las comen. (The students eat them.)
One aspect of using direct object pronouns that trips up some new Spanish learners is the pronoun placement, which is different from English.
#4 Placement Of Spanish Direct Object Pronouns
In English, pronouns simply take the place of the noun their replacing:
Maria and I rode the bus. / We rode the bus.
Direct object pronouns are no different:
- Did you see James? / Did you see him?
- I threw the ball. / I threw it.
In Spanish, most direct object pronouns come before the verb, regardless of where the antecedent is in the original sentence:
- Viste a James? / ¿Lo viste?
- Tiré la pelota. / La tiré.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. You probably already know a few of them instinctively if you've been speaking Spanish for a while.
When the transitive verb is in the infinitive form, you have two options. Either attach the direct object pronoun to the end of the verb or place it before the verb like normal:
Voy a leerlo. / Lo voy a leer. (I am going to read it.)
#2 Present Participles
Also called “gerunds”, present participles are the -ing form (-ando/iendo in Spanish) forms of verbs. As with the infinitive, you have two options of where to place the direct object pronoun:
Estaban leyéndolo. / Lo estaban leyendo. (They were reading it.)
#3 Affirmative Commands
The final conjugation type that can be used either before or after the direct object pronouns are affirmative commands:
Léanlo. / Lo lean. (Read it.)
In the case of the first three exceptions (infinitives, present participles, and affirmative commands), you can place the direct object either before or after the transitive verb. With negative commands, however, there is only one correct option.
#4 Negative Commands
Direct object pronouns always come before the verb and after the “no” in negative commands:
No lo lee. (Don't read it.)
Savvy Spoken Spanish With Direct Object Pronouns
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, you're probably already comfortable using direct object pronouns in your everyday Spanish conversations. Even though you may not have realised it until now!
Mastering the details of proper usage can be a benefit to you, however, as you start to construct increasingly more complex sentences.
With a little revision and plenty of practice, you can feel confident using direct object pronouns and sound more like a native speaker.
And be able to understand Spanish speakers better at the same time.
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How are you feeling about Spanish direct object pronouns now you've read this post? Do you think you could use them comfortably in conversation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.