A No-Nonsense Guide To Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns

Spanish indirect object pronouns

When you first start learning Spanish, building your vocabulary is the most pressing goal. Without the words to express yourself, no amount of grammatical skill will do you any good!

That's why I recommend you focus on speaking and listening to real, authentic Spanish from the very beginning.

Part of your Spanish language journey, however, will include learning specific grammar rules and figuring out how to use them in your everyday conversations.

But even revising grammar will be easier if you have regular Spanish conversations to practice what you're learning. You may even find that you're learning the names and rules for things you already know intuitively.

In fact, if you've been reading and listening to as much Spanish as possible and speaking Spanish with a language partner or tutor, you're probably using indirect object pronouns already!

There will come a point—and maybe you're there already—where you have specific questions about which pronoun to use when.

That's where this article comes in. In it, you will find…

If you're confused by direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish, you're not alone.

But don't worry.

By the time you finish this article, you will be able to…

So let's get into it. By the way, if you prefer videos, you can also watch me explain indirect object pronouns here.

What's The Difference Between Spanish Direct And Indirect Object Pronouns?

what are Spanish indirect object pronouns?

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).

There's also a much more detailed explanation of pronouns and antecedents in that article if you need a refresher of how pronouns work.

Here's a brief reminder of how direct object pronouns work if you don't need the whole explanation again:

The direct object answers the questions “what?” and “whom?” after each transitive verb.

Here's an example:

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?”


how to identify Spanish indirect objects 1

For example…

For whom did I buy a book? The answer to that question is the indirect object pronoun in this sentence. I bought the book for mi hermano, which is replaced by the indirect object pronoun le.

And that's the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns:

A List Of Indirect Pronouns In Spanish

How to identify Spanish Indirect objects

There are only six indirect object pronouns for you to remember in Spanish:

You may have noticed one more practical difference between direct and indirect object pronouns in the previous examples…

Third person indirect objects appear in the sentence even when you also use the indirect object pronoun (the le in our example):

That's because the third person indirect object pronouns are not gender specific.

As a result, the indirect object is often stated along with the pronoun to avoid confusion.

Which Spanish Verbs Take Indirect Objects?

Whether or not a verb takes an indirect object depends quite a bit on how the verb is used in the sentence. For example, here are two very similar sentences. In the first, decir does not take an indirect object. In the second, it does.

Here is a list of verbs that often take indirect objects, when these actions are to or for someone:

There are a handful of verbs in Spanish, that always require an indirect object:

How To Use Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns

How to use Spanish indirect object pronouns

Do you know how to say, “They like to dance” in Spanish? If you do, you already know how to use indirect object pronouns.

Let's take a closer look at some examples:

In these examples, the indirect object pronoun is fairly straightforward. The pronoun comes before the conjugated verb and after the subject.

In the first sentence, the subject is unstated. You could also say, A ellos les gusta bailar. in which case, the subject would come before the indirect object pronoun. ¿De acuerdo?

using Spanish indirect objects for emphasis

The indirect object pronoun can also be attached to the end of an infinitive or progressive verb

¡Ojo!: In that last example, notice the accent. Sometimes, when you attach one or more pronouns to the end of a verb, an accent is needed to maintain the natural pronunciation of the verb.

How To Order Direct And Indirect Spanish Pronouns

You can't have an indirect object without a direct object in the same sentence.

Here's an example…

In this sentence, Andrés told something (the story of his trip to Romania) to someone (us).

In fact, we could replace both objects with pronouns and have the following…

Whenever you have a direct object pronoun and an indirect object pronoun in the same sentence, the indirect object pronoun always comes first.

You may remember from the article on direct object pronouns that they 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

Implied Spanish indirect objects

And what about when no or another negative term is part of the sentence? How does that change the pronoun order?

In general, the negative word comes immediately before the direct and indirect object pronouns…

…except when the pronoun is attached to the end of the verb. In those situations, the negative term comes immediately before the verb or verb clause instead:

Let's look other examples of direct and indirect object pronouns in the same sentence:

What about this sentence that appears to only have an indirect object:

Remember, what he writes is the direct object while to whom he writes is the indirect object.

So what does Eric write? In this case, the direct object is unstated. Eric writes letters or emails every week, but he does write something.

And to whom does he write them? To us!

Using Indirect Object Pronouns With Confidence

Spanish indirect object pronouns mastered

Now that you know how to identify the indirect object in a sentence and how to properly use and order indirect object pronouns, you're ready to use these six little pronouns as often as you want.

In the end, the best way to master indirect object pronouns is to jump right in and start using them when you speak Spanish every day.

Mistakes will happen, but they will be less common than you think!

Don't let fear keep you from making the most of the Spanish language and using both direct and indirect object pronouns for convenience and fluency.

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Are you feeling more confident now about using Spanish indirect object pronouns? Are there any other aspects of Spanish grammar you find tricky? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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