Verbs Used With Indirect-Object Pronouns

The usage is common with such verbs as "gustar" (like, please)

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.

The difference between a direct object 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 who is affected by the verb.

For example, in a 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.

Indirect vs. Direct

There are some verbs that use indirect-object pronouns even though native English speakers 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 in Spanish—where it might not seem intuitive to English speakers—is with a verb such as "gustar" (like, please) as in:

  • Le gustaba el libro. > The book pleased him/her.

This is the literal translation, but the sentence would generally be translated in English 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. Another example might read:

  • 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 of the following sentences because in the translation, "it" is represented by the sentence's subject.

Spanish Sentence English Translation

A los daneses les encantan las salchichas. 

The Danish love sausages.
No le agradó la decisión.  The decision didn't please him/her. He/she didn't like the decision.
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—such as "hablar" (to speak) and "decir" (to tell)—to use indirect-object pronouns. The logic behind this is that the speaker is communicating something; that "something" is the direct object, and the person spoken to is the recipient. Examples include:

  • 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.

Spanish Sentence English Translation
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" here means, "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." For example, "A él le pegaron con un bate en la cabeza." (They hit him with a bat in the head.)
  • "Recordar" when it means "to remind" rather than "to remember." For example, "Le recordamos muchas veces." (We remind him often.)
  • "Tocar" when it means "to be someone's turn" rather than "to touch." For example, "A Catarina le tocaba." (It was Catarina's turn.)
  • "Discutir" when it means "to answer back" rather than "to discuss" or "to debate." For example, "El estudiante le discutía de igual a igual." (The student answered him back as one equal to another.)
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Verbs Used With Indirect-Object Pronouns." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 27). Verbs Used With Indirect-Object Pronouns. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Verbs Used With Indirect-Object Pronouns." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).

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