Guide to basic pronouns in Spanish (DO v IO)

by Alison Maciejewski
February 02, 2021
friends learning basic Spanish pronouns together

It’s nearly a year of stay-at-home work and study for all of us in Europe. Are you sticking with us to learn Spanish at home? Have you signed up for online Spanish lessons during the pandemic? The best way to learn Spanish is by immersion. During lockdown we have the extra time. After learning basic Spanish sentence structure, the next step in fluency is to get comfortable with pronouns. Today, using examples from the fabulous Chelsea Women’s Football Club with a 33-match winning streak, we bring you a guide to basic pronouns in Spanish.

Pronouns in Spanish

A pronoun in Spanish (and English) is a word used in place of a noun. It stands in for a person or thing involved in action. As we mentioned in our blog post on Spanish football vocabulary, sport requires communicating a lot of information quickly. For example, read this action sequence. 

  • La defensa Magdalena Eriksson pasa el balón a la delantera Fran Kirby. – Defender Magdalena Eriksson passes the ball to striker Fran Kirby.
  • Kirby mete el balón con un cabezazo. ¡Chelsea gana el partido! – Kirby puts in the ball with a header. Chelsea wins the match!

Each underlined words is a noun involved with the action verb. These words can be replaced with either direct or indirect object pronouns to express the action more quickly.

Spring idioms in English, Spanish, German and French

Direct object (DO) pronouns in Spanish

A direct object (DO) pronoun is the word for an object of direct action. In the sequence above, the action verbs are pass/put and win. The direct objects of those actions are the ball and the match. These can both be replaced by the direct object pronoun “it”. The Spanish direct object pronouns are:

yome
te
el/ella/Ud.lo/la
nosotrosnos
ellos/ellas/Uds.los/las

In Spanish, the basic third-person DO pronoun “it” translates to lo or la depending on noun gender. El balón and el partido are both masculine lo. Notice that in Spanish sentence structure lo switches position (just like in football!) moving ahead of the verb.

  • La defensa Magdalena Eriksson lo pasa a la delantera Fran Kirby. – Defender Magdalena Eriksson passes it to striker Fran Kirby.
  • Kirby lo mete con un cabezazo. ¡Lo gana Chelsea! – Kirby puts it in with a header. Chelsea wins it!

Indirect object (IO) pronouns in Spanish

An indirect object (IO) pronoun is the word replacing the receiver of the object. In our example, the receiver is Fran Kirby, who literally receives the ball. The Spanish indirect object pronouns are: 

yome
te
el/ella/Ud.le
nosotrosnos
ellos/ellas/Uds.les

The basic third-person IO pronouns her/him or el/ella/usted are all le. Notice in Spanish that the IO pronoun switches position again (more football analogy) moving ahead of the DO pronoun. The structure is: IO + DO + verb. 

  • Defender Magdalena Eriksson passes it to her. 

You’d think it should be:

  • La defensa Magdalena Eriksson le lo pasa

WRONG. It’s actually:

  • La defensa Magdalena Eriksson se lo pasa

Read on to find out why.

Wacky IO + DO Spanish pronoun rule

In the example, we have se lo pasa instead of le lo pasa. That’s because of a wacky, but simple, grammar rule. Spanish doesn’t ever allow le + lo together. When they show up together, the IO pronoun le is “first on the ball”, so it changes to se in order to remove the “lelo” double-L sound. Whenever you see se + le together, it is IO + DO + verb structure.

Spanish Sports vocabulary for playing football

Spanish pronouns for football

In fast-paced sports like football, teammates have to share information in short phrases or words. This is when it comes in handy to know your pronouns well. 

  • me lo pasa – pass it to me (the ball)
  • se la roba – steal it from her
  • se la perdió – she missed it (a sitter/a scoring chance)

Today we only covered basic third-person DO and IO pronouns in Spanish. We will get into the details of the rest in a future post. If you focus on understanding both direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish, you will notice a huge improvement in listening skill. The best way to learn Spanish pronouns is to sit back, relax, and watch Spanish-speaking sport commentators. Listen to how they use pronouns in nearly every sentence. 

Practice your pronouns in Spanish with a native speaking tutor. Register for a 7-day free trial with Lingoda today. 

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