Direct Objects and Direct Object Pronouns

To determine which pronoun to use to replace a noun, you must determine what role the noun is playing in the sentence. When you want to use a pronoun to replace a noun that is the direct object of the sentence, however, you must first be able to identify that the noun is the direct object of the sentence. The direct object is the person(s) or things(s) that receive the action of the verb. Not every sentence has an explicitly stated direct object. If there is an answer to the question “Who or what is being verbed?” that is the direct object of the sentence.

Direct object of a sentence

If there is a direct object in a sentence, there is a very simple way to systematically identify it along with the subject and verb. It's the following three‐step process (the order is important!):

  1.   To identify the verb of the sentence, ask yourself what action is taking place. That action word is the verb of  your sentence.

  2.   Ask yourself who or what is responsible for the action. The noun that answers that question is the subject of  your sentence.

  3.   Ask yourself who or what is being “verb‐ed.” The answer to that question is the direct object of the sentence. If   you can't identify a direct object, don't worry. Not every  sentence has one.

This system is much easier to understand with an example or two. Remember that every sentence must have a subject and a verb, but not every sentence will have a direct object. The three‐step analysis follows.

             Yolanda vende libros. (Yolanda sells books.)

          1.What is the action of the sentence? Vende (sells). Vende is the verb of the sentence.

          2.Who or what does the action? Yolanda. Yolanda is the subject of the sentence.

          3.Who or what is being sold? Libros (books) . Libros is the direct object of the sentence.

The personal a

Whenever the direct object of a sentence is a person or any word referring to a person, the preposition a is placed in front of the direct object. This is called the personal a and will disappear when the direct object is turned into a pronoun. Notice in the following examples that the personal a has no translation in the English sentences.

Direct object pronouns

Once you have determined that the noun you want to replace with a pronoun is serving as the direct object of the sentence, you can select the appropriate pronoun from the direct object case of Spanish pronouns. Table 1 lists the Spanish direct object pronouns. To determine which pronoun is appropriate, consider what pronoun you would have used if you were using a subject pronoun, and then select the direct object pronoun from the same “spot” in the table.

There is no need for a neutral pronoun, like the English word “it,” because all nouns have gender in Spanish. Lo means “him,” but when used to replace masculine nouns that are objects, lo is translated as the English word “it.” The direct object pronoun la means “her,” and also means “it” when replacing a feminine noun that is an object. Just remember that lo, la, los, and las refer to both people and things.

Lo and la are also the direct object pronouns for usted. So you must consider the gender of the “you” that you are replacing with a pronoun. Los and las are the direct object pronouns for ustedes, too, and will reflect the gender of the group of people that “you (plural)” refers to.

It is especially confusing when the direct object pronouns la, los, and las look exactly like the definite article la, los, and las. Just remember when one of these words isn't followed by a noun, it is probably replacing one rather than serving as an article.

Direct object pronoun placement

In English, a direct object always follows the verb. It does not matter whether the object has been turned into a pronoun or not. In Spanish, a direct object follows a conjugated form of a verb unless you turn it into a pronoun. When you change a direct object to a pronoun, the direct object pronoun must be moved in front of the conjugated form of the verb. If the sentence is negative, the no or other negative word will precede the direct object pronoun. Watch what happens in the following pairs of examples. The direct object is underlined in each sentence, but in the second sentence it has been changed to a direct object pronoun and moved to directly in front of the verb.

When there are two verbs in the sentence, the first one is conjugated and the second one is used in its infinitive form. In such sentences, the object pronouns can be placed in front of the conjugated verb or can be attached to the end of the infinitive.

When a sentence is in the present progressive tense, there will be a conjugated form of estar and the present participle form of the verb. Object pronouns may be placed in front of the conjugated form of estar or attached to the end of the verb in the present participle form (ending in – iendo or – ando). This will change the natural stress, so you must add an accent mark to the vowel preceding – ndo when you attach one or two object pronouns. Of course, you can always choose to place the object pronouns in front of the conjugated form of estar and avoid using a written accent mark. Both ways of expressing the progressive are acceptable in Spanish; it does not change the meaning.

There are specific verbs that require a direct object. These verbs, called transitive verbs, sound incomplete if you try to use them without a direct object. If you say “he brings,” it is technically a sentence but sounds incomplete because the transitive verb “brings” requires a direct object. You can't help but think, “he brings what?” Here are transitive verbs that are commonly used when practicing using direct objects: