The confusion around these pronouns is severely compounded by the fact that different parts of the Spanish speaking world have different ways of using them which are not necessarily consistent with what is acceptable as “correct” by prescription grammar.
The standard way
Before we continue into what the regional variations and colloquial “incorrect” usage are, it’s imperative that we first understand what the “correct” usage is. Well, even before that, let’s first brush up on what exactly these “objects” are.
In most languages, a typical sentence has 3 most basic components. Let’s understand this with an example sentence:
Escribe una carta (He writes a letter)
Referring to this example sentence, the three basic components would be:
- The action – This is typically what we know as the “verb.” In our example sentence, the action word is escribe (writes).
- The doer – The idea is that if something is being done, someone’s got to be doing it. This person, thing, or entity that performs the action in question is the “subject,” which in our example is él (he/she). Note that it’s often omitted in Spanish but implied inherently.
- The recipient – This word or phrase signifies the entity at the receiving end of the said action, grammatically known as the “object.” Objects typically answer the “what,” “whom,” or “to whom” in the sentence. Drawing on this, the object in our sentence is the word that answers the question, “What is being written?” Yes, it’s una carta (a letter).
Now, this recipient of action can be stated as either a direct or an indirect object. The letter in our previous example is essentially a direct object. Direct objects usually answer the question, “what.”
However, if we extend our example to answer the question, “to whom,” we get what’s called an indirect object. Let’s try it out:
Le escribe una carta (He writes a letter to her)
So, what’s being done here? Writing. That’s your verb. Who is doing the writing? He; that’s your subject. What’s he writing? A letter, the direct object. And, to whom is he writing the letter? To her, the indirect object. Easy-peasy? Hope so.
Now, let’s have a look at the words used as the direct and indirect recipients of actions in Spanish – The direct and indirect pronouns:
The pronouns for the first and the second persons are fairly simple and easy to digest:
- me – First person singular for both direct and indirect pronouns; directly corresponds to the “me” in English. For example, me dio el libro (she gave the book to me; indirect), me vio (she saw me; direct).
- te – Second person singular for both direct and indirect pronouns; directly corresponds to “you” or “to you” in English. For example, te dio el libro, te vio.
It’s the third person where the heat is. Here, depending on the gender, you have several words that one must choose from. First the direct objects:
- lo – This one answers a “what” question when the recipient is a singular entity in the third person; e.g., lo vi (I saw him), lo tocó (you touched him).
- la – This one is lo’s girlfriend; e.g., la vi (I saw her), la tocó (you touched her).
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