Direct Object Pronouns (los pronombres de objeto directo)

Syntax (word order)

English commonly follows this word order:

Subject

The boy

Verb

sees

Object

the girl.

Due to this word order, English speakers expect the subject to be the first part of the sentence. In this example, “the boy” is the subject of the sentence, or the one who performs the action. The object is the part of sentence that receives the action—in this case, “the girl”. In many cases, the object answers the questions, “what” or “whom” and is often found after the verb.

The boy sees what or whom? The boy sees the girl.

In Spanish, there is more flexibility in the word order:

Subject

El chico

Verb

ve

Object

a la chica.

Object

A la chica

Verb

ve

Subject

el chico.

The word “a” is used to indicate the object of the sentence and avoid confusion.

Processing the first element of the sentence as the object rather than the agent of the action of the verb is really hard for English speakers. We really want that first element to be the subject of the sentence. As you can imagine, this leads to frequent misinterpretation of sentences that have O(bject) V(erb) S(ubject) word order in Spanish.

What does all of this have to do with object pronouns in Spanish? Well, they come before the verb, too. But first, let’s recall what pronouns are and what purpose they serve. Pronouns take the place of a noun when we know what it is we are referring to.

The boy sees the girl.

When we know who and/or what we are talking about, we can use pronouns to replace the nouns in a sentence:

He sees her.

Form

English

Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns
I me
you you
he/she/it him/her/it
we us
you (guys) you
they them

Spanish

Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns
yo me
te
él/ella* lo/la
nosotros/as nos
vosotros/as os
ellos/ellas los/las

* There is no subject pronoun “it” in Spanish. You just omit the subject: El coche es nuevo. Funciona muy bien. (The car is new. It works very well.) Many English speaking Spanish learner really want “lo” and “la” to be subject pronouns equivalent to “it” in English because they are used to filling that spot before the verb, but alas, they are always object pronouns.

Going back to our example sentence, in English, the pronouns still follow our expected word order:

Subject

He

Verb

sees

Object

her.

In Spanish, however, sentences that include object pronouns can be SOV or OVS, and the subject pronoun is optional!

Subject

(Él)

Verb

la

Object

ve.

Object

La

Verb

ve

Subject

(él).

When an English-speaking learner sees a sentence like the ones above, there is a strong inclination to interpret the first element of the sentence as the subject or agent, resulting in the incorrect interpretation, “She sees him.” In order to successfully interpret these sentences, you really have to pay attention to whether the first element of the sentence is a subject pronoun or an object pronoun!

All of the examples so far have included both subjects and objects that are human. The same Spanish object pronouns are used for inanimate objects.

Ejemplo(s):
--El chico lee el libro.
The boy reads the book.
--El chico lo lee.
The boy reads it.
--Lo lee el chico.
The boy reads it.
--Lo lee.
He reads it.
Ejemplo(s):
--El chico escucha la radio.
The boy listens to the radio.
--El chico la escucha.
The boy listens to it.
--La escucha el chico.
The boy listens to it.
--La escucha.
He listens to it.
Ejemplo(s):
--La chica mira los partidos.
The girl watches the games.
--La chica los mira.
The girl watches them.
--Los mira la chica.
The girl watches them.
--Los mira.
She watches them.
Ejemplo(s):
--La chica lee las cartas.
The girl reads the letters.
--La chica las lee.
The girl reads them.
--Las lee la chica.
The girl reads them.
--Los mira.
She reads them.

One final note: Understanding this intellectually (which we are sure you do or you would be going immediately to your instructor’s office hours) and being able to process direct object pronouns in real time are two very different things. Retraining your brain to accept the first element of a sentence as an object takes practice.