A guide to indirect and direct object pronouns in Spanish

A guide to indirect and direct object pronouns in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated September 6, 2023

Studying Spanish — or any language, for that matter — requires you to learn the ins and outs of grammar. I’ve found that my language studies often teach me aspects of grammar that I wasn’t aware of in my native language. Have you noticed the same? 

One important step in mastering Spanish grammar is learning how to use indirect and direct object pronouns. Both of these pronoun types are used to replace nouns, but they differ in some key ways. I remember having to learn this concept in my high school Spanish classes (¡Saludos, Señora Abbott-Walker!). As a native English speaker, it was something I instinctively understood, but I still needed to break it down in order to grasp the concept in Spanish. In this guide, we’ll review how to use direct and indirect object pronouns and even discuss some more advanced ways to use pronouns in Spanish. 

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What are direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

Pronouns in Spanish are a word used in place of a noun. For example: Did you see Sara yesterday? 

  • Yes, I saw Sara yesterday. 
  • Yes, I saw her yesterday. 

The word “her” is a direct object pronoun in the above instance.

In Spanish, there are direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns

  • Direct object pronouns replace a direct object. A direct object is a noun that is directly acted upon by the verb. 
  • Indirect object pronouns replace an indirect object. The indirect object is the recipient of the action.  

To clarify this, let’s use a simple sentence construction in English: “I threw the ball to Sam.” 

In this sentence, the ball is the direct object because it is the object being thrown.

Sam is the indirect object because the action is being done to or for him. Indirect objects answer the question of “to whom?” or “for whom?”.

Still confused? Check out our guide to basic pronouns for a quick review, or consult the table below for a breakdown of the various different pronouns in Spanish.

English pronounsSpanish pronounsSpanish direct object pronounsSpanish indirect object pronouns
him/her/you (formal)/itel/ella/Ustedlo/lale
them/you (informal)ellos/ellas/Ustedeslos/lasles

How to use indirect vs. direct object pronouns in Spanish

Here are a few general rules you can follow to use indirect vs. direct object pronouns correctly in Spanish. 

1. The direct object pronoun goes before the verb

To replace mi hermana (a feminine singular noun), we use the direct object pronoun la. 

  • Ayer llamé a mi hermana. (Yesterday I called my sister.)
  • Ayer la llamé. (Yesterday I called her.)

To replace zapatos nuevos (a masculine plural noun modified by an adjective), we use the direct object pronoun los.

  • Mi hijo compró zapatos nuevos. (My son bought new shoes.)
  • Mi hijo los compró. (My son bought them.)

2. Indirect object pronouns also go before the verb

Below, note how Sara is the indirect object and thus must be replaced with the indirect object pronoun le. 

  • Viste a Sara ayer? (Did you see Sara yesterday?)
  • Si, la vi ayer. (Yes, I saw her yesterday.)

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3. When a direct and indirect object pronoun are used in the same sentence, the indirect object pronoun comes first

In the sentence below, nosotros is replaced with nos and la comida is replaced with la. 

  • JJ nos trajo la comida a nosotros. (JJ brought the food to us.) 
  • JJ nos la trajo. (JJ brought it to us.)

4. Direct object pronouns must agree in gender and number with the nouns they replace

Gender and number agreement is a common attribute of adjectives in Spanish. The same goes for pronouns. In the example below, el pastel is replaced with the direct object pronoun lo. It is singular and masculine. 

  • ¿Cocinaste el pastel? (Did you cook the cake?)
  • Si, lo cociné. (Yes, I cooked it.)

In the next example, las cartas is replaced with the direct object pronoun las. It is plural and feminine. 

  • ¿Enviaste las cartas? (Did you send the letters?)
  • Sí, las envié. (Yes, I sent them.)

Advanced pronoun usage in Spanish

Now that you have the basics down, here are a few rules about more advanced pronoun usage in Spanish.

1. Direct and indirect object pronouns can be added to a verb as additional parts of the same word

Here is an example: 

  • Mi madre me está comprando una pizza. (My mom is buying me a pizza.)
  • Mi madre está comprándomela. (My mom is buying it for me.)

La is the direct object pronoun. Me is the indirect object pronoun. We can add them to the participle comprando, which is a gerund in this case. Notice that an accent needs to be added to the first a to follow the rules for Spanish accent marks and correctly pronounce the word stress.

2. No double ‘L’ allowed

Spanish does not allow the indirect object pronouns le or les to be followed by the direct object pronouns lo, la, los or las. If we need to say le + lo, we must change le to se. Here’s an example: 

  • Le dije el cuento a Jean. (I told the story to Jean.)
  • Incorrect: Le lo dije. (This is incorrect due to the double “l” in le + lo.)
  • Correct: Se lo dije. (This correctly changes the indirect object pronoun to se.)

I told you the rules. Te las dije. 

Learning Spanish is a process. Sometimes we have to learn grammar rules in our native language before we can understand them in a new language. The good news? Learning indirect and direct object pronouns in Spanish will make your conversations flow much more smoothly. They help you tell stories more quickly and speed up your response time in conversations. After all, short pronouns are easier to remember than long vocabulary words. If you feel unsure about the rules we learned today, taking a Spanish grammar class might help you brush up and stay on track toward fluency.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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