Languages › Spanish When Is the Personal ‘A’ of Spanish Not Used? Here are three exceptions to the rule about the preposition Share Flipboard Email Print Buscan una empleada de hogar. (They're looking for a domestic employee. Note how the sign in the picture doesn't use the personal "a."). Daniel Lobo / Creative Commons. Spanish Grammar History & Culture Pronunciation Vocabulary Writing Skills By Gerald Erichsen Spanish Language Expert B.A., Seattle Pacific University Gerald Erichsen is a Spanish language expert who has created Spanish lessons for ThoughtCo since 1998. our editorial process Gerald Erichsen Updated July 24, 2019 The general rule is that the personal a of Spanish is used before a direct object when that object is a person or an animal or thing that has been personified. However, there are exceptions. The personal a is either optional or not used when the direct object is a nonspecific person, when following the verb tener, or to avoid awkwardness when two a's would be close to each other in a sentence. Omitting the Personal A When the Person Isn’t Specific Perhaps the best way to state the biggest exception to the rule is to clarify the rule. Rather than saying that the personal a is used before people, it would best to say that the personal a is used only with specific, known, or identified human beings (or animals or things that have been personified). In other words, if the person is treated as a member of a category rather than as a known person, the personal a isn't needed. Here are some examples of the difference: Busco a mi novio. (I am looking for my boyfriend. Here, the boyfriend is a specific, known person, even though his name isn't given.)Busco un novio. (I am looking for a boyfriend. Here the boyfriend is merely someone who is a member of a category. We do not know who the person is, or even if he exists.)No conozco a tu bisabuela. (I don't know your grandmother. We have the person's identify even if her name isn't given.)No conozco una sola bisabuela. (I don't know a single great-grandmother. As in the case of the boyfriend above, the person is talking about a hypothetical person rather than an identified one.)Necesito una secretario. (I need a secretary. The speaker needs assistance, but not necessarily from a specific person.)Necesito a la secretario. (I need the secretary. The speaker needs a specific person.) As a result, some sentences can have a slightly different meaning, depending on whether the a is used. For example, we might say "El FBI busca a un hombre de 40 años," meaning that the FBI is looking for a specific 40-year old man, perhaps the one who committed a crime. If we say "El FBI busca un hombre de 40 años," it suggests the FBI is looking for a 40-year-old man in general, perhaps for a criminal lineup or for some other purpose where it doesn't particularly matter which 40-year-old man it finds. The main exception to this clarified rule is that certain pronouns, such as alguien (someone) and nadie (no one), always require the personal a when used as direct objects, even when they refer to no specific person. Example: No conozco a nadie. (I don't know anybody.) Dropping the Personal A After Tener When tener is used to indicate "have" in the sense of having a close relationship, the personal a is not used even if the direct object is known. Tenemos tres hijos. (We have three sons.)La compañia tiene muchos empleados. (The company has many employees.)Ya tengo médico de atención primaria. (I already have a primary-care doctor.) When tener is used to mean have someone in a role, however, the personal a is retained: Tengo a mi hermana como amiga de Facebook. (I have my sister as a Facebook friend.) Avoiding Two A's in a Sentence Sometimes a sentence following the general rule would have two a's, especially when a verb is followed by direct object and then an indirect object. In such cases, the personal a before the direct object is omitted. The listener will then understand that the object without a preceding a is the direct object. In this way, such sentences often mimic the word order in English. Mandé mi hijo a su profesor. (I sent my son to his teacher. Note the lack of a before hijo.)El bombero llevó Pablo a mi madre. (The firefighter carried Pablo to my mother.) Key Takeaways Although Spanish uses a personal a when a person is a direct object, the personal a is not used unless the person is a known person rather than someone who merely fits a category.An exception is that the personal a is required with nadie and alguien.The personal a is often not used following the verb tener, even if the object is a known person.