Verbs Used With Indirect-Object Pronouns

Usage common with 'gustar'-like verbs, verbs of communication

House of the Parliament in Spain
A ella no le interesaba la política de España. (Spanish politics didn't interest her.).

Richie Diesterheft/Creative Commons.

Generally, the difference between an direct object of a verb and an indirect object of a verb is that a direct object is what or whom the verb acts upon, while the indirect object is the beneficiary and/or person that is affected by the verb. Thus in a simple sentence such as "Le daré el libro" ("I will give him the book"), el libro (the book) is the direct object because it's the thing being given, and le (him) is the indirect object because it refers to the person receiving the book.

However, there are some verbs that use indirect-object pronouns even though those of us who speak English as a first language would probably think of them as using direct-object pronouns. One example would be a translation of the sentence "I don't understand him" (where "him" is a direct object) as "No le entiendo" or "No le comprendo" (where le is an indirect-object pronoun). (In this case, it is possible to say "No lo entiendo" or "No lo comprendo," but the meaning would be different: "I don't understand it.")

Gustar and Similar Verbs

The most common type of verb using an indirect-object pronoun where it might not seem intuitive to English speakers is a verb such as gustar, which means "to please": Le gustaba el libro. The book pleased him/her. (This sentence would often be translated as "he/she liked the book.") Although usage can vary with region and individuals, verbs like gustar are often used with the subject following the verb. Here are some examples taken from writings of native speakers:

  • A la actriz le sorprendió que hubiera un Starbucks en España. (The actress was surprised there was a Starbucks in Spain. Le isn't translated to English here and in some sentences below because in the translation it is represented by the sentence's subject.)
  • No le agradó la decisión. (The decision didn't please him/her. He/she didn't like the decision.)
  • A los daneses les encantan las salchichas. (The Danish love sausages.)
  • A los soldados les faltan pelotas de golf. (The soldiers lack golf balls.)
  • A ella no le interesaba la política. (Politics didn't interest her. She wasn't interested in politics.)
  • A los internautas les preocupan los virus, la privacidad, y el malware. (Viruses, privacy, and malware worry Internet users.)

Verbs of Communication

It is common when using verbs of communication — examples include hablar (to speak) and decir (to tell) — to use indirect-object pronouns. The logic behind this is that the speaker is communicating something, and that something is the direct object, and the person spoken to is the recipient.

  • Le hablaron y no sabía nada. (They spoke to him, and he/she didn't know anything.)
  • Vas a ser madre, le dijeron. (You're going to be a mother, they told her.)
  • Voy a telefonearle de inmediato. (I am going to call him/her immediately.)

Other Verbs

A dozen or so verbs, several of them involving instruction or understanding, use the indirect object when the object is a person.

  • Les enseñaban con un manual donde Tierra del Fuego pertenecía a Chile. (They taught them with a book where Tierra del Fuego belonged to Chile.)
  • No le creo, Sr. Hernández. (I don't believe you, Mrs. Hernandez. "No lo creo" would mean "I don't understand it.")
  • El primer ministro dice que le inquieta la crisis humanitaria. (The prime minister says the humanitarian crisis worries him.)
  • Hay veces que no le entiendo por su pronunciación. (There are times I don't understand her because of her pronunciation.)
  • ¿Y si no le obedezco? (And if I don't obey him?)

Usage Depending on Verb's Meaning

Some verbs use an indirect object when they have certain meanings but a direct object otherwise:

  • Pegar when it means "to hit" rather than "to stick": A él le pegaron con un bate en la cabeza. (They hit him with a bat in the head.)
  • Recordar usually uses when it means "to remind" rather than "to remember": Le recordamos muchas veces. (We remind him often.)
  • Tocar when it means "to be someone's turn" rather than "to touch": A Catarina le tocaba. (It was Catarina's turn.)
  • Discutir when it means "to answer back" rather than "to discuss" or "to debate." El estudiante le discutía de igual a igual. (The student answered him back as one equal to another.)