Direct-Object Pronouns in Spanish

Unlike in English, Spanish direct and indirect pronouns can differ

Picture illustrating use of object pronoun in Spanish
Quiero comparlos. (I want to buy them.).

Linka A Odom / Getty Images

In Spanish as in English, a direct object is a noun or pronoun that is directly acted upon by a verb.

In a sentence such as "I see Sam," "Sam" is the direct object of "see" because "Sam" is who is seen. But in a sentence such as "I am writing Sam a letter," "Sam" is the indirect objects. The item being written is "letter," so it is the direct object. "Sam" is the indirect object as one who is affected by the verb's action on the direct object.

A difference with Spanish, however, is that the set of pronouns that can be direct objects differs slightly from those that can be indirect objects.

The 8 Direct-Object Pronouns of Spanish

Here are the direct-object pronouns along with the most common English translations and examples of their uses:

  • me — me — Juan puede verme. (John can see me.)
  • te — you (singular familiar) — No te conoce. (He doesn't know you.)
  • lo — you (singular masculine formal), him, it — No puedo verlo. (I can't see you, or I can't see him, or I can't see it.)
  • la — you (singular feminine formal), her, it — No puedo verla. (I can't see you, or I can't see her, or I can't see it.)
  • nos — us — Nos conocen. (They know us.)
  • os — you (plural familiar) — Os ayudaré. (I will help you.)
  • los — you (plural formal, masculine or mixed masculine and feminine), them (masculine or mixed masculine and feminine) — Los oigo. (I hear you, or I hear them.)
  • las — you (plural feminine formal), them (feminine) — Las oigo. (I hear you, or I hear them.)

The differences between these pronouns and the indirect objects are found in the third person. The indirect third-person pronouns are le and les.

Note that lo, la, los, and las can refer to either people or things. If they are referring to things, be sure to use the same gender as the name of the object being referred to. Example:

  • Where the noun is masculine: Tengo dos boletos. ¿Los quieres? (I have two tickets. Do you want them?)
  • Where the noun is feminine: Tengo dos rosas. ¿Las quieres? (I have two roses. Do you want them?)

If you don't know the gender of the direct object, you should use lo or los: No sé lo que es porque no lo vi. (I don't know what it is because I did not see it.)

Word Order and Direct-Object Pronouns

As you can see from the above examples, the location of a direct-object pronoun can vary. In most cases, it can be placed before the verb. Alternatively, it can be attached to an infinitive (the form of the verb that ends in -ar, -er or -ir) or a present participle (the form of the verb that ends in -ndo, often the equivalent of English verbs that end in "-ing").

Each sentence in the following pairs has the same meaning:

  • No lo puedo ver, and no puedo verlo (I can't see him).
  • Te estoy ayudando, and estoy ayudándote (I am helping you).

Note that when the direct object is added to a present participle, it is necessary to add a written accent to the last syllable of the stem so that the stress is on the proper syllable.

Direct-object pronouns follow affirmative commands (telling someone to do something) but precede negative commands (telling someone not to do something): estúdialo (study it), but no lo estudies (don't study it). Note again that an accent needs to be added when adding the object to the end of positive commands.

Le as a Direct Object

In some parts of Spain, le can substitute for lo as a direct object when it means "him" but not "it." Less commonly in some areas, les can substitute for los when referring to people. You can learn more about this phenomenon in the lesson on leísmo.

Sample Sentences Showing Use of Direct Objects

Direct objects are shown in boldface:

  • Me interesa comprarlo, pero más tarde. (I am interested in buying it, but much later. The me in this sentence is an indirect object.)
  • Tu nariz está torcida porque tu madre la rompió cuando eras niño. (Your nose is bent because your mother broke it when you were a boy. La is used here because it refers to nariz, which is feminine.)
  • Puedes vernos en el episodio 14. Nos puedes ver en el episodio 14. (You can see us in Episode 14. Both of these sentences mean the same thing, as the direct object can either come before the verbs or attached to the infinitive.)
  • Te quiero mucho. (I love you a lot.)

Key Takeaways

  • A direct object is a noun or pronoun that is acted on directly by a verb.
  • In Spanish, direct- and indirect-object pronouns can differ in the third person, unlike in English.
  • When the direct object of a verb is the equivalent of "it," in Spanish you need to vary the gender of the pronoun according to the gender of the noun being referred to.